The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, by William Morris

Book IV.

Gudrun.

Herein is told of the days of the Niblungs after they slew Sigurd, and of their woeful need and fall in the house of King Atli.

King Atli wooeth and weddeth Gudrun.

Hear now of those Niblung war-kings, how in glorious state they dwell;

They do and undo at their pleasure and wear their life-days well;

They deal out doom to the people, and their hosts of war array,

Nor storm nor wind nor winter their eager swords shall stay:

They ride the lealand highways, they ride the desert plain,

They cry out kind to the Sea-god and loose the wave-steed’s rein:

They climb the unmeasured mountains, and gleam on the world beneath,

And their swords are the blinding lightning, and their shields are the shadow of death:

When men tell of the lords of the Goth-folk, of the Niblungs is their word,

All folk in the round world’s compass of their mighty fame have heard:

They are lords of the Ransom of Odin, the uncounted sea-born Gold,

The Grief of the wise Andvari, the Death of the Dwarfs of old,

The gleaming Load of Greyfell, the ancient Serpent’s Bed,

The store of the days forgotten, by the dead heaped up for the dead.

Lo, such are the Kings of the Niblungs, but yet they crave and desire

Lest the world hold greater than they, lest the Gods and their kindred be higher.

Fair, bright is their hall in the even; still up to the cloudy roof

There goeth the glee and the singing while the eagles chatter aloof,

And the Gods on the hangings waver in the doubtful wind of night;

Still fair are the linen-clad damsels, still are the war-dukes bright;

Men come and go in the even; men come and go in the morn;

Good tidings with the daybreak, fair fame with the glooming is born:

— But no tidings of Sigurd and Brynhild, and whoso remembereth their days

Turns back to the toil or the laughter from his words of lamenting or praise,

Turns back to the glorious Gunnar, casts hope on the Niblung name,

Doeth deeds from the morn to the even, and beareth no burden of shame.

Well wedded is Gunnar the King, and Hogni hath wedded a wife;

Fair queens are those wives of the Niblungs, good helpmates in peace and in strife

Sweet they sit on the golden high-seat, and Grimhild sitteth beside,

And the years have made her glorious, and the days have swollen her pride;

She looketh down on the people, from on high she looketh down,

And her days have become a wonder, and her redes are wisdom’s crown.

She saith: Where then are the Gods? what things have they shapen and made

More of might than the days I have shapen? of whom shall our hearts be afraid?

Now there was a King of the outlands, and Atli was his name,

The lord of a mighty people, a man of marvellous fame,

Who craved the utmost increase of all that kings desire;

Who would reach his hand to the gold as it ran in the ruddy fire,

Or go down to the ocean-pavement to harry the people beneath,

Or cast up his sword at the Gods, or bid the friendship of death.

By hap was the man unwedded, and wide in the world he sought

For a queen to increase his glory lest his name should come to nought;

And no kin like the kin of the Niblungs he found in all the earth.

No treasure like their treasure, no glory like their worth;

So he sendeth an ancient war-duke with a goodly company,

And three days they ride the mirk-wood and ten days they sail the sea,

And three days they ride the highways till they come to Gunnar’s land;

And there on an even of summer in Gunnar’s hall they stand,

And the spears of Welshland glitter, and the Southland garments gleam,

For those folk are fair apparelled as the people of a dream.

But the glorious Son of Giuki from amidst the high-seat spoke:

“Why stand ye mid men sitting, or fast mid feasting folk?

No meat nor drink there lacketh, and the hall is long and wide.

Three days in the peace of the Niblungs unquestioned shall ye bide,

Then timely do your message, and bid us peace or war.”

But spake the Earl of Atli yet standing on the floor:

“All hail, O glorious Gunnar, O mighty King of men!

O’er-short is the life of man-folk, the three-score years and ten,

Long, long is the craft for the learning, and sore doth the right hand waste:

Lo, lord, our spurs are bloody, and our brows besweat with haste;

Our gear is stained by the sea-spray and rent by bitter gales,

For we struck no mast to the tempest, and the East was in our sails;

By the thorns is our raiment rended, for we rode the mirk-wood through,

And our steeds were the God-bred coursers, nor day from night-tide knew:

Lo, we are the men of Atli, and his will and his spoken word

Lies not beneath our pillow, nor hangs above the board;

Nay, how shall it fail but slay us if three days we hold it hid?

— I will speak to-night, O Niblung, save thy very mouth forbid:

But lo now, look on the tokens, and the rune-staff of the King.”

Then spake the Son of Giuki: “Give forth the word and the thing.

Since thy faithfulness constraineth: but I know thy tokens true,

And thy rune-staff hath the letters that in days agone I knew.”

“Then this is the word,” said the elder, “that Atli set in my mouth: ’I have known thee of old, King Gunnar, when we twain drew sword in the south

In the days of thy father Giuki, and great was the fame of thee then:

But now it rejoiceth my heart that thou growest the greatest of men,

And anew I crave thy friendship, and I crave a gift at thy hands,

That thou give me the white-armed Gudrun, the queen and the darling of lands,

To be my wife and my helpmate, my glory in hall and afield;

That mine ancient house may blossom and fresh fruit of the King-tree yield.

I send thee gifts moreover, though little things be these.

But such is the fashion of great-ones when they speak across the seas.’”

Then cried out that earl of the strangers, and men brought the gifts and the gold;

White steeds from the Eastland horse-plain, fine webs of price untold,

Huge pearls of the nether ocean, strange masteries subtly wrought

By the hands of craftsmen perished and people come to nought.

But Gunnar laughed and answered: “King Atli speaketh well;

Across the sea, peradventure, I too a tale may tell:

Now born is thy burden of speech; so rejoice at the Niblung board,

For here art thou sweetly welcome for thyself and thy mighty lord:

And maybe by this time tomorrow, or maybe in a longer space,

Shall ye have an answer for Atli, and a word to gladden his face.”

So the strangers sit and are merry, and the Wonder of the East

And the glory of the Westland kissed lips in the Niblung feast.

But again on the morrow-morning speaks Gunnar with Grimhild and saith:

“Where then in the world is Gudrun, and is she delivered from death?

For nought hereof hast thou told me: but the wisest of women art thou,

And I deem that all things thou knowest, and thy cunning is timely now;

For King Atli wooeth my sister; and as wise as thou mayst be,

What thing mayst thou think of greater ’twixt the ice and the uttermost sea

Than the might of the Niblung people, if this wedding come to pass?”

Then answered the mighty Grimhild, and glad of heart she was:

“It is sooth that Gudrun liveth; for that daughter of thy folk

Fled forth from the Burg of the Niblungs when the Volsung’s might ye broke:

She fled from all holy dwellings to the houses of the deer,

And the feet of the mountains deserted that few folk come anear:

There the wolves were about and around her, and no mind she had to live;

Dull sleep she deemed was better than with turmoiled thought to strive:

But there rode a wife in the wood, a queen of the daughters of men,

And she came where Gudrun abided, whose might was minished as then,

Till she was as a child forgotten; nor that queen might she gainsay;

Who took the white-armed Gudrun, and bore my daughter away

To her burg o’er the hither mountains; there she cherished her soft and sweet,

Till she rose, from death delivered, and went upon her feet:

She awoke and beheld those strangers, a trusty folk and a kind,

A goodly and simple people, that few lords of war shall find:

Glorious and mighty they deemed her, as an outcast wandering God,

And she loved their loving-kindness, and the fields of the tiller she trod,

And went ’twixt the rose and the lily, and sat in the chamber of wool,

And smiled at the laughing maidens, and sang over shuttle and spool.

Seven seasons there hath she bided, and this have I wotted for long;

But I knew that her heart is as mine to remember the grief and the wrong,

So the days of thy sister I told not, in her life would I have no part,

Lest a foe for thy life I should fashion, and sharpen a sword for thine heart:

But now is the day of our deeds, and no longer durst I refrain,

Lest I put the Gods’ hands from me, and make their gifts but vain.

Yea, the woman is of the Niblungs, and often I knew her of old,

How her heart would burn within her when the tale of their glory was told.

With wisdom and craft shall I work, with the gifts that Odin hath given,

Wherewith my fathers of old, and the ancient mothers have striven.”

“Thy word is good,” quoth Gunnar, “a happy word indeed:

Lo, how shall I fear a woman, who have played with kings in my need?

Yea, how may I speak of my sister, save well remembering

How goodly she was aforetime, how fair in everything,

How kind in the days passed over, how all fulfilled of love

For the glory of the Niblungs, and the might that the world shall move?

She shall see my face and Hogni’s, she shall yearn to do our will,

And the latter days of her brethren with glory shall fulfil.”

Then Grimhild laughed and answered: “Today then shalt thou ride

To the dwelling of Thora the Queen, for there doth thy sister abide.”

As she spake came the wise-heart Hogni, and that speech of his mother he heard,

And he said: “How then are ye saying a new and wonderful word,

That ye meddle with Gudrun’s sorrow, and her grief of heart awake?

Will ye draw out a dove from her nest, and a worm to your hall-hearth take?”

“What then,” said his brother Gunnar, “shall we thrust by Atli’s word?

Shall we strive, while the world is mocking, with the might of the

Eastland sword, While the wise are mocking to see it, how the great devour the great?”

“O wise-heart Hogni,” said Grimhild, “wilt thou strive with the hand of fate,

And thrust back the hand of Odin that the Niblung glory will crown?

Wert thou born in a cot-carle’s chamber, or the bed of a King’s renown?”

“I know not, I know not,” said Hogni, “but an unsure bridge is the sea,

And such would I oft were builded betwixt my foeman and me.

I know a sorrow that sleepeth, and a wakened grief I know,

And the torment of the mighty is a strong and fearful foe.”

They spake no word before him; but he said: “I see the road;

I see the ways we must journey — I have long cast off the load,

The burden of men’s bearing wherein they needs must bind

All-eager hope unseeing with eyeless fear and blind:

So today shall my riding be light; nor now, nor ever henceforth

Shall men curse the sword of Hogni in the tale of the Niblung worth.”

Therewith he went out from before them, and through chamber and hall he cried

On the best of the Niblung earl-folk, for that now the Kings would ride:

Soon are all men assembled, and their shields are fresh and bright,

Nor gold their raiment lacketh; then the strong-necked steeds they dight,

They dight the wain for Grimhild, and she goeth up therein,

And the well-clad girded maidens have left the work they win,

To sit by the Mother of Kings and make her glory great:

Then to horse get the Kings of the Niblungs, and ride out by the ancient gate;

And amidst its dusky hollows stir up the sound of swords:

Forth then from the hallowed houses ride on those war-fain lords,

Till they come to the dales deserted, and the woodland waste and drear;

There the wood-wolves shrink before them, fast flee the forest-deer,

And the stony wood-ways clatter as the Niblung host goes by.

Adown by the feet of the mountains that eve in sleep they lie,

And arise on the morrow-morning and climb the mountain-pass,

And the sunless hollow places, and the slopes that hate the grass.

So they cross the hither ridges and ride a stony bent

Adown to the dale of Thora, and the country of content;

By the homes of a simple people, by cot and close they go,

Till they come to Thora’s dwelling; but fair it stands and low

Amidst of orchard-closes, and round about men win

Fair work in field and garden, and sweet are the sounds therein.

Then down by the door leaps Gunnar, but awhile in the porch he stands

To hearken the women’s voices and the sound of their labouring hands;

And amidst of their many murmurings a mightier voice he hears,

The speech of his sister Gudrun: his inmost heart it stirs,

And he entereth glad and smiling; bright, huge in the lowly hall

He stands in the beam of sunlight where the dust-motes dance and fall.

On the high-seat sitteth Gudrun when she sees the man of war

Come gleaming into the chamber; then she standeth up on the floor,

And is great and goodly to look on mid the women of that place:

But she knoweth the guise of the Niblungs, and she knoweth Gunnar’s face,

And at first she turneth to flee, as erewhile she fled away

When she rose from the wound of Sigurd and loathed the light of day:

But her father’s heart rose in her, and the sleeping wrong awoke,

And she made one step from the high-seat before Queen Thora’s folk;

And Gunnar moved from the threshold, and smiled as he drew anear,

And Hogni went behind him and the Mother of Kings was there;

And her maids and the Earls of the Niblungs stood gleaming there behind:

Lo, the kin and the friends of Gudrun, a smiling folk and kind!

In the midst stood Gudrun before them, and cried aloud and said:

“What! bear ye tidings of Sigurd? is he new come back from the dead?

O then will I hasten to greet him, and cherish my love and my lord,

Though the murderous sons of Giuki have borne the tale abroad.”

Dead-pale she stood before them, and no mouth answered again,

And the summer morn grew heavy, and chill were the hearts of men

And Thora’s people trembled: there the simple people first

Saw the horror of the King-folk, and mighty lives accurst.

All hushed stood the glorious Gunnar, but Hogni came before,

And he said: “It is sooth, my sister, that thy sorrow hath been sore,

That hath rent thee away from thy kindred and the folk that love thee most:

But to double sorrow with hatred is to cast all after the lost,

And to die and to rest not in death, and to loathe and linger the end:

Now today do we come to this dwelling thy grief and thy woe to amend,

And to give thee the gift that we may; for without thy love and thy peace

Doth our life and our glory sicken, though its outward show increase.

Lo, we bear thee rule and dominion, and hope and the glory of life,

For King Atli wooeth thee, Gudrun, for his queen and his wedded wife.”

Still she stood as a carven image, as a stone of ancient days

When the sun is bright about it and the wind sweeps low o’er the ways.

All hushed was Gunnar the Niblung and knew not how to beseech,

But still Hogni faced his sister, nor faltered aught in his speech:

“Thou art young,” he said, “O sister; thou wert called a mighty queen

When the nurses first upraised thee and first thy body was seen:

If thou bide with these toiling women when a great king bids thee to wife,

Then first is it seen of the Niblungs that they cringe and cower from strife:

By the deeds of the Golden Sigurd I charge thee hinder us not,

When the Norns have dight the way-beasts, and our hearts for the journey are hot!”

She answered not with speaking, she questioned not with eyes,

Nought did her deadly anger to her brow unknitted rise,

Then forth came Grimhild the Mighty, and the cup was in her hand,

Wherein with the sea’s dread mingled was the might and the blood of the land;

And the guile of the summer serpent and the herb of the sunless dale

Were blent for the deadening slumber that forgetteth joy and bale;

And cold words of ancient wisdom that the very Gods would dim

Were the foreshores of that wine-sea and the cliffs that girt its rim:

Therewith in the hall stood Grimhild, and cried aloud and spake:

“It was I that bore thee, daughter; I laboured once for thy sake,

I groaned to bear thee a queen, I sickened sore for thy fame:

By me and my womb I command thee that thou worship the Niblung name,

And take the gift we would give thee, and be wed to a king of the earth,

And rejoice in kings hereafter when thy sons are come to the birth:

Lo, then as thou lookest upon them, and thinkest of glory to come,

It shall be as if Sigmund were living, and Sigurd sat in thine home.”

Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, no master of masters might see

The hate in her soul swift-growing or the rage of her misery.

But great waxed the wrath of Grimhild; there huge in the hall she stood,

And her fathers’ might stirred in her, and the well-spring of her blood;

And she cried out blind with anger: “Though all we die on one day,

Though we live for ever in sorrow, yet shalt thou be given away

To Atli the King of the mighty, high lord of the Eastland gold:

Drink now, that my love and my wisdom may thaw thine heart grown cold;

And take those great gifts of our giving, the cities long builded for thee,

The wine-burgs digged for thy pleasure, the fateful wealthy lea,

The darkling woods of the deer, the courts of mighty lords,

The hosts of men war-shielded, the groves of fallow swords!”

Nought changed the eyes of Gudrun, but she reached her hand to the cup

And drank before her kindred, and the blood from her heart went up,

And was blent with the guile of the serpent, and many a thing she forgat,

But never the day of her sorrow, and of how o’er Sigurd she sat:

But the land’s-folk looked on the Niblungs as the daughter of Giuki drank,

And before their wrath they trembled, and before their joy they shrank.

Then yet again spake Gudrun, and they that stood thereby,

— O how their hearts were heavy as though the sun should die!

She said: “O Kings of my kindred, I shall nought gainsay your will;

With the fruit of your fond desires your hearts shall ye fulfil;

Bear me back to the Burg of the Niblungs, and the house of my fathers of old,

That the men of King Atli may take me with the tokens and treasure of gold.”

Then the cry goeth up from the Niblungs, and no while in that house they abide;

Forth fare the Cloudy People and the stony slopes they ride,

And the sun is bright behind them o’er queen Thora’s lowly dale,

Where the sound of their speech abideth as an ancient woeful tale.

But the Niblungs ride the forest and the dwellings of the deer,

And the wife of the Golden Sigurd to the ancient Burg they bear;

She speaks not of good nor of evil, and no change in her face men see,

Nay, not when the Niblung towers rise up above the lea;

Nay, not when they come to the gateway, and that builded gloom again

Swallows up the steed and its rider, and sword, and gilded wain;

Nay, not when to earth she steppeth, and her feet again pass o’er

The threshold of the Niblungs and the holy house of yore;

Nay, not when alone she lieth in the chamber, on the bed

Where she lay, a little maiden, ere her hope was born and dead:

Yea, how fair is her face on the morrow, how it winneth all people’s praise,

As the moon that forebodeth nothing on the night of the last of days.

Nought tarry the lords of King Atli, and the Niblungs stay them nought;

The doors of the treasure are opened and the gold and the tokens are brought;

And all men in the hall are assembled, where Gunnar speaketh and saith:

“Go hence, O men of King Atli, and tell of our love and our faith

To thy master, the mighty of men: go take him this treasure of gold,

And show him how we have hearkened, and nought from his heart may withhold,

Nay, not our best and our dearest, nay, not the crown of our worth,

Our sister, the white-armed Gudrun, the wise and the Queen of the earth.”

Then arose the cry of the people, and that Duke of Atli spake:

“We bless thee, O mighty Gunnar, for the Eastland Atli’s sake,

And his kingdom as thy kingdom, and his men as thy men shall be,

And the gold in Atli’s treasure is stored and gathered for thee.”

So spake he amid their shouting, and the Queen from the high-seat stept,

And Gudrun stood with the strangers, and there were women who wept,

But she wept no more than she smiled, nor spake, nor turned again

To that place in the ancient dwelling where once lay Sigurd slain.

But she mounteth the wain all golden, and the Earls to the saddle leap,

And forth they ride in the morning, and adown the builded steep

That hath no name for Gudrun, save the place where Sigurd fell,

The strong abode of treason, the house where murderers dwell.

Three days they ride the lealand till they come to the side of the sea:

Ten days they sail the sea-flood to the land where they would be:

Three days they ride the mirk-wood to the peopled country-side,

Three days through a land of cities and plenteous tilth they ride;

On the fourth the Burg of Atli o’er the meadows riseth up,

And the houses of his dwelling fine-wrought as a silver cup.

Far off in a bight of the mountains by the inner sea it stands,

Turned away from the house of Gudrun, and her kindred and their lands.

Then to right and to left looked Gudrun and beheld the outland folk,

With no love nor hate nor wonder, as out from the teeth she spoke

To that unfamiliar people that had seen not Sigurd’s face.

There she saw the walls most mighty as they came to the fencèd place:

But lo, by the gate of the city and the entering in of the street

Is an host exceeding glorious, for the King his bride will greet:

So Gudrun stayeth her fellows, and lighteth down from the wain,

And afoot cometh Atli to meet hers and they meet in the midst, they twain,

And he casteth his arms about her as a great man glad at heart;

Nought she smiles, nor her brow is knitted as she draweth aback and apart,

No man could say who beheld her if sorry or glad she were;

But her steady eyes are beholding the King and the Eastland’s Fear,

And she thinks: Have I lived too long? how swift doth the world grow worse,

Though it was but a little season that I slept, forgetting the curse!

But the King speaks kingly unto her and they pass forth under the gate,

And she sees he is rich and mighty, though the Niblung folk be great;

So strong is his house upbuilded, so many are his lords,

So great the hosts for the murder and the meeting of the swords;

And she saith: It is surely enough and no further now shall I wend;

In this house, in the house of a stranger shall be the tale and the end.

Atli biddeth the Niblungs to him.

There now is Gudrun abiding, and gone by is the bloom of her youth,

And she dwells with a folk untrusty, and a King that knows not ruth:

Great are his gains in the world, and few men may his might withstand,

But he weigheth sore on his people and cumbers the hope of his land;

He craves as the sea-flood craveth, he gripes as the dying hour,

All folk lie faint before him as he seeketh a soul to devour:

Like breedeth like in his house, and venom, and guile, and the knife

Oft lie ’twixt brother and brother, and the son and the father’s life:

As dogs doth Gudrun heed them, and looks with steadfast eyes

On the guile and base contention, and the strife of murder and lies.

So pass the days and the moons, and the seasons wend on their ways,

And there as a woman alone she sits mid the glory and praise:

There oft in the hall she sitteth, and as empty images

Are grown the shapes of the strangers, till her fathers’ hall she sees:

Void then seems the throne of the King, and no man sits by her side

In the house of the Cloudy People and the place of her brethren’s pride;

But a dead man lieth before her, and there cometh a voice and a hand,

And the cloth is plucked from the dead, and, lo, the beloved of the land,

The righter of wrongs, the deliverer, yea he that gainsayed no grace:

In a stranger’s house is Gudrun and no change comes over her face,

But her heart cries: Woe, woe, woe, O woe unto me and to all!

On the fools, on the wise, on the evil let the swift destruction fall!

Cold then is her voice in the high-seat, and she hears not what it saith;

But Atli heedeth and hearkeneth, for she tells of the Glittering Heath,

And the Load of the mighty Greyfell, and the Ransom of Odin the Goth:

Cold yet is her voice as she telleth of murder and breaking of troth,

Of the stubborn hearts of the Niblungs, and their hands that never yield,

Of their craving that nought fulfilleth, of their hosts arrayed for the field.

— What then are the words of

King Atli that the cold voice answereth thus?

“King, so shalt thou do, and be sackless of the vengeance that lieth with us:

What words are these of my brethren, what words are these of my kin?

For kin upon kin hath pity, and good deeds do brethren win

For the babes of their mothers’ bosoms, and the children of one womb:

But no man on me had pity, no kings were gathered for doom,

When I lifted my hands for the pleading in the house of my father’s folk;

When men turned and wrapped them in treason, and did on wrong as a cloak:

I have neither brethren nor kindred, and I am become thy wife

To help thine heart to its craving, and strengthen thine hand in the strife.”

Thus she stirred up the lust of Atli, she, unmoved as a mighty queen,

While the fire that burned within her by no child of man was seen.

There oft in the bed she lieth, and beside her Atli sleeps,

And she seeth him not nor heedeth, for the horror over her creeps,

And her own cry rings through the chamber that along ago she cried,

And a man for his life-breath gasping is struggling by her side,

Yea, who but Sigurd the Volsung; and no man of men in death

Ere spake such words of pity as the words that now he saith,

As the words he speaketh ever while he riseth up on the sword,

The sword of the foster-brethren and the Kings that swore the word.

Lo, there she lieth and hearkeneth if yet he speak again,

And long she lieth hearkening and lieth by the slain.

So dreams the waking Gudrun till the morn comes on apace

And the daylight shines on Atli, and no change comes over her face,

And deep hush lies on the chamber; but loud cries out her heart:

How long, how long, O God-folk, will ye sit alone and apart,

And let the blood of Sigurd cry on you from the earth,

While crowned are the sons of murder with worship and with worth?

If ye tarry shall I tarry? From the darkness of the womb

Came I not in the days passed over for accomplishing your doom?

So she saith till the daylight brightens, and the kingly house is astir,

And she sits by the side of Atli, and a woman’s voice doth hear,

One who speaks with the voice of Gudrun, a queenly voice and cold:

“How oft shall I tell thee, Atli, of the wise Andvari’s Gold,

The Treasure Regin craved for, the uncounted ruddy rings?

Full surely he that holds it shall rule all earthly kings:

Stretch forth thine hand, O Atli, for the gift is marvellous great,

And I am she that giveth! how long wilt thou linger and wait

Till the traitors come against thee with the war-torch and the steel,

And here in thy land thou perish, befooled of thy kingly weal?

Have I wedded the King of the Eastlands, the master of numberless swords,

Or a serving-man of the Niblungs, a thrall of the Westland lords?”

So spake the voice of Gudrun; suchwise she cast the seed

O’er the gold-lust of King Atli for the day of the Niblungs’ Need.

Who is this in the hall of King Gunnar, this golden-gleaming man?

Who is this, the bright and the silent as the frosty eve and wan,

Round whom the speech of wise-ones lies hid in bonds of fear?

Who this in the Niblung feast-hall as the moon-rise draweth anear?

Hark! his voice mid the glittering benches and the wine-cups of the

Earls, As cold as the wind that bloweth where the winter river whirls,

And the winter sun forgetteth all the promise of the spring:

“Hear ye, O men of the Westlands, hear thou, O Westland King,

I have ridden the scorching highways, I have ridden the mirk-wood blind,

I have sailed the weltering ocean your Westland house to find;

For I am the man called Knefrud with Atli’s word in my mouth.

That saith: O noble Gunnar, come thou and be glad in the south,

And rejoice with Eastland warriors; for the feast for thee is dight,

And the cloths for thy coming fashioned my glorious hall make bright.

Knowst thou not how the sun of the heavens hangs there ’twixt floor and roof.

How the light of the lamp all golden holds dusky night aloof?

How the red wine runs like a river, and the white wine springs as a well,

And the harps are never ceasing of ancient deeds to tell?

Thou shalt come when thy heart desireth, when thou weariest thou shalt go,

And shalt say that no such high-tide the world shall ever know.

Come bare and bald as the desert, and leave mine house again

As rich as the summer wine-burg, and the ancient wheat-sown plain!

Come, bid thy men be building thy store-house greater yet,

And make wide thy stall and thy stable for the gifts thine hand shall get!

Yet when thou art gone from Atli he shall stand by his treasure of gold,

He shall look through stall and stable, he shall ride by field and fold,

And no ounce from the weight shall be lacking, of his beasts shall lack no head,

If no thief hath stolen from Gunnar, if no beast in his land lie dead.

Yea henceforth let our lives be as one, let our wars and our wayfarings blend,

That my name with thine may be told of when the song is sung in the end,

That the ancient war-spent Atli may sit and laugh with delight

O’er thy feet the swift in battle, o’er thine hand uplifted to smite.”

So spake the guileful Knefrud mid the silence of the wise,

Nor once his cold voice faltered, nor once he sank his eyes:

Then spake the glorious Gunnar:

                          “We hear

King Atli’s voice.

And the heart is glad within us that he biddeth us rejoice:

Yet the thing shall be seen but seldom that a Niblung fares from his land

With eyes by the gold-lust blinded, with the greedy griping hand.

When thou farest aback unto Atli, thou shalt tell him how thou hast been

In the house of the Westland Gunnar, and what things thine eyes have seen:

Thou shalt tell of the seven store-houses with swords filled through and through,

Gold-hilted, deftly smithied, in the Southland wave made blue:

Thou shalt tell of the house of the treasures and the Gold that lay erewhile

On the Glittering Heath of murder ’neath the heart of the Serpent’s guile:

Thou shalt note our glittering hauberk, thou shalt strive to bend our bow,

Thou shalt look on the shield of Gunnar that its white face thou mayst know:

Thou shalt back the Niblung war-steed when the west wind blows its most,

And see if it over-run thee; thou shalt gaze on the Niblung host

And be glad of the friends of Atli; thou shalt fare through stable and stall,

And tell over the tale of the beast-kind, if the night forbear to fall;

Through the horse-mead shalt thou wander, through the meadows of the sheep,

But forbear to count their thousands lest thou weary for thy sleep;

Thou shalt look if the barns be empty, though the wheat-field whiteneth now,

In the midmost of the summer in the fields men cared to plough;

Thou shalt dwell with men that lack not, and the tillers fair and fain;

Thou shalt see, and long, and wonder, and tell thy King of his gain;

For in all that here thou beholdest hath he portion even as we;

Sweet bloometh his love in our midmost, and the fair time yet may be,

When we twain shall meet and be merry; and sure when our lives are done

No more shall men sunder our glory than the Gods have rent the sun.

Sit, mighty man, and be joyous: and then shalt thou cast us a word

And say how fareth our sister mid the glory of her lord.”

Then Knefrud looked upon Gunnar, and spake, nor sank his eyes:

“Each morn at the day’s beginning when the sun hath hope to arise

She looketh from Atli’s tower toward the west part and the grey,

To see the Niblung spear-heads gleam down the lonely way:

Each eve at the day’s departing on the topmost tower she stands,

And looketh toward the mirk-wood and the sea of the western lands:

There long in the wind she standeth, and the even grown acold,

To see the Niblung war-shields come forth from out the wold.”

Then Gunnar turneth to Hogni, and he saith: “O glorious lord,

What saith thine heart to the bidding, and Atli’s loving word?”

“I have done many deeds,” said Hogni, “I have worn the smooth and the rough,

While the Gods looked on from heaven, and belike I have done enough,

And no deed for me abideth, but rather the sleep and the rest

But thou, O Son of King Giuki, art our eldest and our best,

And fair lie the fields before thee wherein thine hand shall work:

By the wayside of the greedy doth many a peril lurk;

Full wise is the great one meseemeth who bideth his ending at home

When the winds and the waves may be dealing with hate that hath far to come.”

“I hearken thy word,” said Gunnar, “and I know in very deed

That long-lived and happy are most men that hearken Hogni’s rede.

Hear thou, O Eastland War-god, and bear this answer aback,

That nought may the earth of my people King Giuki’s children lack,

And that here in the land am I biding till the Norns my life shall change;

Howbeit, if here were Atli, his face were scarce more strange

Than that daughter of my father whom sore I long to see:

Let him come, and sit with the Niblungs, and be called their king with me.”

Then spake the guileful Knefrud, and his word was exceeding proud:

“It is little the wont of Atli to sit at meat with a crowd;

Yet know, O Westland Warrior, that thy message shall be done.

Since the Cloudy Folk make ready new lodging for the sun.”

He laughed, and the wise kept silence, and Gunnar heeded him nought:

On the daughter of his people was set the Niblung’s thought,

So sore he longed to behold her; for his life seemed wearing away,

And the wealth and the fame he had gathered seemed nought by the earlier day,

The day of love departed, and of hope forgotten long.

But Hogni laughs with the stranger, and cries out for harp and song,

And the glee rises up as a river when the mountain-tops grow clear,

When seaward drift the rain-clouds, and the end of day is near;

As of birds in the green groves singing is the Niblung manhood’s voice,

And the Earls without foreboding in their mighty life rejoice.

Glad then grows the King of the people, and the sweetness filleth his heart,

And he turneth about a little, and speaketh to Knefrud apart:

“What sayest thou, lord of the Eastland, how with Gudrun’s heart it fares?

Is she sunk in the day of dominion and the burden that it bears,

Or remembereth she her brethren and her father and her folk?”

Then Knefrud looked upon Gunnar, and forth from the teeth he spoke:

“It is e’en as I said, King Gunnar: all eves she stands by the gate

The coming of her kindred through the dusky tide to wait:

Each day in the dawn she ariseth, and saith the time is at hand

When the feet of the Niblung War–Kings shall tread King Atli’s land:

Then she praiseth the wings of the dove, and the wings of the wayfaring crane ’Gainst whom the wind prevails not, and the tempest driveth in vain;

And she praiseth the waves of the ocean, how they toil and toil and blend,

Till they break on the strand belovèd, and the Niblung earth in the end.”

He spake, and the song rose upward and the wine of Kings was poured,

And Gunnar heard in the wall-nook how the wind went forth abroad,

And he dreamed, and beheld the ocean, and all kingdoms of the earth,

And the world lay fair before him and his worship and his worth.

Then again spake the Eastland liar: “O King, I may not hide

That great things in the land of Atli thy mighty soul abide;

For the King is spent and war-weak, nor rejoiceth more in strife;

And his sons, the children of Gudrun, now look their first on life:

For this end meseems is his bidding, that no worser men than ye

May sit in the throne of Atli and the place where he wont to be.”

In the tuneful hall of the Niblungs that Eastland liar spake,

And he heard the song of the mighty o’er Gunnar’s musing break,

And his cold heart gladdened within him as man cried out to man,

And fair ’twixt horn and beaker the red wine bubbled and ran.

At last spake Gunnar the Niblung as his hand on the cup he laid:

“A great king craveth our coming, and no more shall he be gainsayed:

We will go to look on Atli, though the Gods and the Goths forbid;

Nought worse than death meseemeth on the Niblungs’ path is hid,

And this shall the high Gods see to, but I to the Niblung name,

And the day of deeds to accomplish, and the gathering-in of fame.”

Up he stood with the bowl in his right-hand, and mighty and great he was,

And he cried: “Now let the beakers adown the benches pass;

Let us drink dear draughts and glorious, though the last farewell it be,

And this draught that I drink have sundered my father’s house and me.”

He drank, and all men drank with him, and the hearts of the Earls arose,

As of them that snatch forth glory from the deadly wall of foes:

With the joy of life were they drunken and no man knew for why,

And the voice of their exultation rose up in an awful cry;

— It is joy in the mouths that utter, it is hope in the hearts that crave,

And think of no gainsaying, and remember nought to save;

But without the women hearken, and the hearts within them sink;

And they say: What then betideth that our lords forbear to drink,

And wail and weep in the night-tide and cry the Gods to aid?

Why then are the Kings tormented, and the warriors’ hearts afraid?

Then the deadened sound sweeps landward, and the hearts of the field-folk fail,

And they say: Is there death in the Burg, that thence goeth the cry and the wail?

Lo, lo, the feast-hall’s windows! blood-red through the dark they shine:

Why is weeping the song of the Niblungs, and blood the warrior’s wine?

But therein are the torches tossing, and the shields of men upborne,

And the death-blades yet unbloodied cast up ’twixt bowl and horn,

And all rest of heart is departed as men speak of the mirk-wood’s ways,

And the fame of outland countries, and the green sea’s troublous days.

But Gunnar arose o’er the people, as a mighty King he spake:

“O ye of the house of Giuki that are joyous for my sake,

What then shall be left to the Niblungs if we return no more?

Then let the wolves be warders of the Niblungs’ gathered store!

On the hearth let the worm creep over where the fire now flares aloft!

And the adder coil in the chambers where the Niblung wives sleep soft!

Let the master of the pine-wood roll huge in the Niblung porch,

And the moon through the broken rafters be the Niblungs’ feastful torch!”

Glad they cried on the glorious Gunnar; for they saw the love in his eyes,

And with joy and wine were they drunken, and his words passed over the wise,

As oft o’er the garden lilies goes the rising thunder-wind,

And they know no other summer, and no spring that was they mind.

But Hogni speaketh to Knefrud: “Lo, Gunnar’s word is said:

How fares it, lord, with Gudrun? remembereth she the dead?”

Then the liar laughed out and answered: “Ye shall go tomorrow morn;

The man to turn back Gunnar shall never now be born:

Each day-spring the white Gudrun on Sigurd’s glory cries,

All eves she wails on Sigurd when the fair sun sinks and dies!”

“Thou sayest sooth,” said Hogni, “one day we twain shall wend

To the gate of the Eastland Atli, that our tale may have an end.

Long time have I looked for the journey, and marvelled at the day,

With what eyes I shall look on Sigurd, what words his mouth shall say.”

Then he raiseth the cup for Gunnar, and men see his glad face shine

As he crieth hail and glory o’er the bubbles of the wine;

And they drink to the lives of the brethren, and men of the latter earth

May not think of the height of their hall-glee, or measure out their mirth:

So they feast in the undark even to the midmost of the night.

Till at last, with sleep unwearied, they weary with delight,

And pass forth to the beds blue-covered, and leave the hearth acold:

They sleep; in the hall grown silent scarce glimmereth now the gold:

For the moon from the world is departed, and grey clouds draw across,

To hide the dawn’s first promise and deepen earthly loss.

The lone night draws to its death, and never another shall fall

On those sons of the feastful warriors in the Niblungs’ holy hall.

How the Niblungs fare to the Land of King Atli.

Now when the house was silent, and all men in slumber lay,

And yet two hours were lacking of the dawning-tide of day,

The sons of his foster-mother doth the heart-wise Hogni find;

In the dead night, speaking softly, he showeth them his mind,

And they wake and hearken and heed him, and arise from the bolster blue,

Nor aught do their stout hearts falter at the deed he bids them do.

So he and they go softly while all men slumber and sleep,

And they enter the treasure-houses, and come to their midmost heap;

But so rich in the night it glimmers that the brethren hold their breath,

While Hogni laugheth upon it:— long it lay on the Glittering Heath,

Long it lay in the house of Reidmar, long it lay ’neath the waters wan;

But no long while hath it tarried in the houses and dwellings of man.

Nor long these linger before it; they set their hands to the toil,

And uplift the Bed of the Serpent, the Seed of murder and broil;

No word they speak in their labour, but bear out load on load

To great wains that out in the fore-court for the coming Gold abode:

Most huge were the men, far mightier than the mightiest fashioned now,

But the salt sweat dimmed their eyesight and flooded cheek and brow

Ere half the work was accomplished; and by then the laden wains

Came groaning forth from the gateway, dawn drew on o’er the plains;

And the ramparts of the people, those walls high-built of old,

Stood grey as the bones of a battle in a dale few folk behold:

But in haste they goad the yoke-beasts, and press on and make no speech,

Though the hearts are proud within them and their eyes laugh each at each.

No great way down from the burg-gate, anigh to the hallowed field,

There lieth a lake in the river as round as Odin’s shield,

A black pool huge and awful: ten long-ships of the most

Therein might wager battle, and the sunken should be lost

Beyond all hope of diver, yea, beyond the plunging lead;

On either side its rock-walls rise up to a mighty head,

But by green slopes from the meadows ’tis easy drawing near

To the brow whence the dark-grey rampart to the water goeth sheer: ’Tis as if the Niblung River had cleft the grave-mound through

Of the mightiest of all Giants ere the Gods’ work was to do;

And indeed men well might deem it, that fearful sights lie hid

Beneath the unfathomed waters, the place to all forbid;

No stream the black deep showeth, few winds may search its face,

And the silver-scaled sea-farers love nought its barren space.

There now the Niblung War-king and the foster-brethren twain

Lead up their golden harvest and stay it wain by wain,

Till they hang o’er the rim scarce balanced: no glance they cast below

To the black and awful waters well known from long ago,

But they cut the yoke-beasts’ traces, and drive them down the slopes,

Who rush through the widening daylight, and bellow forth their hopes

Of the straw-stall and the barley: but the Niblungs turn once more,

Hard toil the warrior cart-carles for the garnering of their store,

And shoulder on the wain-wheels o’er the edge of the grimly wall,

And stand upright to behold it, how the waggons plunge and fall.

Down then and whirling outward the ruddy Gold fell forth,

As a flame in the dim grey morning, flashed out a kingdom’s worth,

Then the waters, roared above it, the wan water and the foam

Flew up o’er the face of the rock-wall as the tinkling Gold fell home,

Unheard, unseen for ever, a wonder and a tale,

Till the last of earthly singers from, the sons of men shall fail:

Then the face of the further waters a widening ripple rent

And forth from hollow places strange sounds as of talking went,

And loud laughed Hogni in answer; but not so long he stayed

As that half the oily ripple in long sleepy coils was laid,

Or the lapping fallen silent in the water-beaten caves;

Scarce streamward yet were drifting the foam-heaps o’er the waves.

When betwixt the foster-brethren down the slopes King Hogni strode

Toward the ancient Burg of his fathers, as a man that casteth a load:

No word those fellows had spoken since he whispered low and light

O’er the beds of the foster-brethren in the dead hour of the night,

But his face was proud and glorious as he strode the war-gate through,

And went up to his kingly chamber, and the golden bed he knew,

And lay down and slept by his help-mate as a play-spent child might sleep

In some franklin’s wealthy homestead, in the room the nurses keep.

Nought the sun on that morn delayeth, but light o’er the world’s face flies.

And awake by the side of King Hogni the wedded woman lies,

And her bosom is weary with sighing, and her eyes with dream-born tears.

And a sound as of all confusion is ever in her ears:

Then she turneth and crieth to Hogni, as she layeth a hand on his breast; “Wake, wake, thou son of

Giuki! save thy speech-friend all unrest!”

Then he waketh up as a child that hath slept in the summer grass,

And he saith: “What tidings, O Bera, what tidings come to pass?”

She saith, “Wilt thou wend with Gunnar to Atli over the main?”

Said Hogni: “Hast thou not heard it, how rich we shall come again?”

“Ye shall never come back,” said Bera, “ye shall die by the inner sea.”

“Yea, here or there,” said Hogni, “my death no doubt shall be.”

“O Hogni,” she said, “forbear it, that snare of the Eastland wrong!

In the health and the wealth of the sunlight at home mayst thou tarry for long:

For waking or sleeping I dreamed, and dreaming, the tokens I saw.”

“Oft,” he said, “in the hands of the house-wife comes the crock by its fatal flaw:

An hundred earls shall slay me, or the fleeing night-thief’s shaft,

The sickness that wasteth cities, or the unstrained summer draught:

Now as mighty shall be King Atli and the gathered Eastland force

As the fly in the wine desired, or the weary stumbling horse.”

She said: “Wilt thou stay in the land, lest the noble faint and fail,

And the Gods have nought to tell of in the ending of the tale?

O King, save thou thine hand-maid, lest the bloom of Kings decay!”

He said: “Good yet were the earth, though all we should die in a day:

But so fares it with you, ye women: when your husband or brother shall die,

Ye deem that the world shall perish, and the race of man go by.”

“Sure then is thy death,” she answered, “for I saw the Eastland flood

Break over the Burg of the Niblungs, and fill the hall with blood.”

He said: “Shall we wade the meadows to the feast of Atli the King?

Then the blood-red blossoming sorrel about our legs shall cling.”

Said Bera: “I saw thee coming with the face of other days;

But the flame was in thy raiment, and thy kingly cloak was ablaze.”

“How else,” said he, “O woman, wouldst thou have a Niblung stride,

Save in ruddy gold sun-lighted, through the house of Atli’s pride?”

She said: “I beheld King Atli midst the place of sacrifice

And the holy grove of the Eastland in a king’s most hallowed guise:

Then I looked, as with laughter triumphant he laid his gift in the fire,

And lo, ’twas the heart of Hogni, and the heart of my desire;

But he turned and looked upon me as I sickened with fear and with love,

And I saw the guile of the greedy, and with speechless sleep I strove,

And had cried out curses against him, but my gaping throat was hushed,

Till the light of a deedless dawning o’er dream and terror rushed;

And there wert thou lying beside me, though but little joy it seemed,

For thou wert but an image unstable of the days before I dreamed.”

Quoth Hogni, “Shall I arede it? Seems it not meet to thee

That the heart and the love of the Niblungs in Atli’s hand should be,

When he stands by the high Gods’ altars, and uplifts his heart for the tide

When the kings of the world-great people to the Eastland house shall ride?

Nay, Bera, wilt thou be weeping? but parting-fear is this;

Doubt not we shall come back happy from the house of Atli’s bliss:

At least, when a king’s hand offers all honour and great weal,

Wouldst thou have me strive to unclasp it to show the hidden steel?

With evil will I meet evil when it draweth exceeding near;

But oft have I heard of evil, whose father was but fear,

And his mother lust of living, and nought will I deal with it,

Lest the past, and those deeds of my doing be as straw when the fire is lit.

Lo now, O Daughter of Kings, let us rise in the face of the day,

And be glad in the summer morning when the kindred ride on their way;

For tears beseem not king-folk, nor a heart made dull with dreams,

But to hope, if thou mayst, for ever, and to fear nought, well beseems.”

There the talk falls down between them, and they rise in the morn, they twain,

And bright-faced wend through the dwelling of the Niblungs’ glory and gain.

Meanwhile awakeneth Gunnar, and looks on the wife by his side,

And saith: “Why weepest thou, Glaumvor, what evil now shall betide?”

She said: “I was waking and dreamed, or I slept and saw the truth;

The Norns are hooded and angry, and the Gods have forgotten their ruth.”

“Speak, sweet-mouthed woman,” said Gunnar, “if the Norns are hard, I am kind;

Though even the King of the Niblungs may loose not where they bind.”

She said: “Wilt thou go unto Atli and enter the Burg of the East?

Wilt thou leave the house of the faithful, and turn to the murderer’s feast?”

“It is e’en as certain,” said Gunnar, “as though I knocked at his gate,

If the winds and waters stay not, or death, or the dealings of Fate.”

“Woe worth the while!” said Glaumvor, “then I talk with the dead indeed:

And why must I tarry behind thee afar from the Niblungs’ Need?”

He said: “Thou wert heavy-hearted last night for the parting-tide;

And alone in the dreamy country thy soul would needs abide,

And see not the King that loves thee, nor remember the might of his hand;

So thou falledst a prey unholpen to the lies of the dreamy land.”

“Ah, would they were lies,” said Glaumvor, “for not the worst was this:

There thou wert in the holy high-seat mid the heart of the Niblung bliss,

And a sword was borne into our midmost, and its point and its edge were red,

And at either end the wood-wolves howled out in the day of dread;

With that sword wert thou smitten, O Gunnar, and the sharp point pierced thee through.

And the kin were all departed, and no face of man I knew:

Then I strove to flee and might not; for day grew dark and strange,

And no moonrise and no morning the eyeless mirk would change.”

“Such are dreams of the night,” said Gunnar, “that lovers oft perplex,

When the sundering hour is coming with the cares that entangle and vex.

Yet if there be more, fair woman, when a king speaks loving words,

May I cast back words of anger, and the threat of grinded swords?”

“O yet wouldst thou tarry,” said Glaumvor, “in the fair sun-lighted day!

Nor give thy wife to another, nor cast thy kingdom away.”

“Of what king of the people,” said Gunnar, “hast thou known it written or told,

That the word was born in the even which the morrow should withhold?”

“Alas, alas!” said Glaumvor, “then all is over and done!

For I dreamed of the hall of the Niblungs at the setting of the sun,

How dead women came in thither no worse than queens arrayed,

Who passed by the earls of the Niblungs, and their hands on thy gown-skirt laid,

And hailed thee fair for their fellow, and bade thee come to their hall.

O bethink thee, King of the Niblungs, what tidings shall befall!”

“Yea, shall they befall?” said Gunnar, “then who am I to strive

Against the change of my life-days, while the Gods on high are alive?

I shall ride as my heart would have me; let the Gods bestir them then,

And raise up another people in the stead of the Niblung men:

But at home shalt thou sit, King’s Daughter, in the keeping of the

Fates, And be blithe with the men of thy people and the guest within thy gates,

Till thou know of our glad returning to the holy house and dear

Or the fall of Giuki’s children, and a tale that all shall hear.

Arise and do on gladness, lest the clouds roll on and lower

O’er the heavy hearts of the people in the Niblungs’ parting hour.”

So he spake, and his love rejoiced her, and they rose in the face of the day,

And no seeming shadow of evil on those bright-eyed King-folk lay.

Thus stirreth the house of the Niblungs, and awakeneth unto life;

And were there any envy, or doubt that breedeth strife, ’Twixt friends or kin or brethren, ’twas healed that self-same morn,

And peace and loving-kindness o’er all the house was borne,

Now arrayed are the earls and the warriors, and into the hall they come

When the morning sun is shining through the heart of their ancient home;

And lo, how the allwise Grimhild is set in the golden seat,

The first of the way-fain warriors, and the first of the wives to greet;

In the raiment of old she sitteth, aloft in the kingly place,

And all men marvel to see her and the glory of her face.

So all is dight for departing and the helms of the Niblung lords

Shine close as a river of fire o’er the hilts of hidden swords:

About and around are the women; and who e’er hath been heavy of heart,

If their hearts are light this morning when their fairest shall depart?

They hear the steeds in the forecourt; from the rampart of the wall

Comes the cry and noise of the warders as man to man doth call;

For the young give place to the old, and the strong carles labour to show

The last-learned craft of battle to their fathers ere they go.

There is mocking and mirth and laughter as men tell to the ancient sires

Of the four-sheared shaft of the gathering, and the horn, and the beaconing fires.

Woe’s me! but the women laugh not: do they hope that the sun may be stayed,

And the journey of the Niblungs a little while delayed?

Or is not their hope the rather, that they do but dream in the night,

And that they shall awake in a little with the land’s life faring aright?

Ah, fair and fresh is the morning as ever a season hath been,

And the nourishing sun shines glorious on the toil of carle and quean,

And the wealth of the land desired, and all things are alive and awake;

Let them wait till the even bringeth sweet rest for hearts that ache.

Lo now, a stir by the doorway, and men see how great and grand

Come the Kings of Giuki begotten, all-armed, and hand in hand:

Where then shall the world behold them, such champions clad in steel,

Such hearts so free and bounteous, so wise for the people’s weal?

Where then shall the world see such-like, if these must die as the mean,

And fall as lowly people, and their days be no more seen?

They go forth fair and softly as they wend to the seat of the Kings,

And they smile in their loving-kindness as they talk of bygone things.

Are they not as the children of Giuki, that fared afield erewhile

In hope without contention, mid the youth that knew no guile?

Their wedded wives are beside them with faces proud and fair,

That smile, if the lips smile only, for the Eastland liar is there.

Fain the women are of those Brethren, and they seem so gay and kind,

That again the hope upspringeth of their lords abiding behind.

But Hogni spake to his brother, and they looked on the liar’s son,

And clear ran King Gunnar’s laughter as the summer waters run;

Then the Queens’ hearts fainted within them, and with pain they drew their breath;

For they knew that the King was merry and laughed in the face of death.

Fair now on the ancient high-seat, and the heart of the Niblung pride,

Stand those lovely lords of Giuki with their wedded wives beside.

And Gunnar cries: “O maidens, let the cup be in every hand,

For this morn for a little season we leave our fathers’ land,

And love we leave behind us, and love abroad we bear,

And these twain shall meet in a little, and their meeting-tide be fair:

Rejoice, O Niblung children, be glad o’er the parting cup!

For meseems if the heavens were falling, our spears should hold them up.”

Then he leaped adown from the high-seat and amidst his men he stood,

And the very joy of God-folk ran through the Niblung blood,

And the glee of them that die not: there they drink in their mighty hall,

And glad on the ancient fathers, and the sons of God they call:

The hope of their hearts goes upward in the last most awful voice,

And once more the quivering timbers of the Niblung home rejoice.

But exceeding proud sits Grimhild, and so wondrous is her state

That men deem they have never seen her so glorious and so great,

And she speaks, when again in the feast-hall is there silence save of the mail

And the whispered voice of women, as they tell their latest tale:

“Go forth, O Kings, to dominion, and the crown of all your might,

And the tale from of old foreordered ere the day was begotten of night.

For all this is the work of the Norns, though ye leave a woman behind

Who hath toiled and toiled in the darkness, the road of fate to find:

Go glad, O children of Giuki; though scarce ye wot indeed

Of the labour of your mother to win your glory’s meed.

Farewell, farewell, O children, till ye get you back again

To her that bore you in darkness, and brought you forth in pain!

Cast wide the doors for the King-folk, ring out O harpstrings now!

For the best e’er born of woman go forth with cloudless brow.

Be glad O ancient lintel, O threshold of the door,

For such another parting shall earth behold no more!”

She ceased, and no voice gave answer save the voice of smitten harps,

As the hands of the music-weavers went o’er their golden warps;

Then high o’er the warriors towering, as the king-leek o’er the grass,

Out into the world of sunlight through the door those Brethren pass,

And all the host of the warriors, the women’s silent woe,

The steel and the feet soft-falling o’er the ancient threshold go,

While all alone on the high-seat the god-born Grimhild sits:

There hearkeneth she steeds’ neighing, and the champing of the bits,

And the clash of steel-clad champions, as at last they leap aloft,

And cries and women’s weeping ’mid the music breathing soft;

Then the clattering of the horse-hoofs, and the echo of the gate

With the wakened sword-song singing o’er departure of the great,

Till the many mingled voices are swallowed up and stilled,

And all the air by seeming with an awful sound is filled,

The cry of the Niblung trumpet, as men reach the unwalled space:

So whiles in a mighty city, and a many-peopled place,

When the rain falls down ’mid the babble, nor ceaseth rattle of wheels,

And with din of wedding joy-bells the minster steeple reels,

Lo, God sends down his thunder, and all else is hushed as then,

And it is as the world’s beginning, and before the birth of men.

Long sitteth the god-born Grimhild till all is silent there,

For afar down the meadows with the host all people fare;

Then bitter groweth her visage, in the hush she crieth and saith:

“O ye — whom then shall I cry on, ye that hunt my sons unto death,

And overthrow our glory, and bring our labour to nought —

Ye Gods, ye had fashioned the greatest, and to make them greater I wrought,

And to strengthen your hands for the battle, and uplift your hearts for the end:

But ye, ye have fashioned confusion, and the great with the little ye blend,

Till no more on the earth shall be living the mighty that mock at your death,

Till like the leaves men tremble, like the dry leaves quake at a breath.

I have wrought for your lives and your glory, and for this have I strengthened my guile,

That the earth your hands uplifted might endure, nor pass in a while

Like the clouds of latter morning that melt in the first of the night.”

She rose up great and dreadful, and stood on the floor upright,

And cast up her hands to the roof-tree, and cried aloud and said:

“Woe to you that have made me for nothing! for the house of the

Niblungs is dead, Empty and dead as the desert, where the sun is idle and vain

And no hope hath the dew to cherish, and no deed abideth the rain!”

She falleth aback in the high seat, and the eagles cry from aloof,

While Grimhild’s eyes wide-open stare up at the Niblung roof:

But they see not, nought are they doing to feed her fear or desire;

And her heart, the forge of sorrow, dead, cold, is its baneful fire;

And her cunning hand is helpless, for her hopeless soul is gone;

Far off belike it drifteth from the waste her labour won.

Fair now through midmost ocean King Gunnar’s dragons run,

And the green hills round about them gleam glorious with the sun;

The keels roll down the sea-dale, and welter up the steep,

And o’er the brow hang quivering ere again they take the leap;

For the west wind pipes behind them, and no land is on their lea,

As the mightiest of earth’s peoples sails down the summer sea:

And as eager as the west-wind, no duller than the foam

They spread all sails to the breezes, and seek their glory home:

Six days they sail the sea-flood, and the seventh dawn of day

Up-heaveth a new country, a land far-off and grey;

Then Knefrud biddeth heed it, and he saith: “Lo, the Eastland shore,

And the land few ships have sailed to, by the mirk-wood covered o’er.”

Then riseth the cry and the shouting as the golden beaks they turn,

For all hearts for the land of cities, and the hall of Atli yearn:

But a little after the noontide is the Niblung host embayed,

And betwixt the sheltering nesses the ocean-wind is laid:

No whit they brook delaying: but their noblest and their best

Toss up the shaven oar-blades, and toil and mock at rest:

Full swift they skim the swan-mead till the tall masts quake and reel,

And the oaken sea-burgs quiver from bulwark unto keel.

It is Gunnar goes the foremost with the tiller in his hand,

And beside him standeth Knefrud and laughs on Atli’s land:

And so fair are the dragons driven, that by ending of the day

On the beach by the ebb left naked the sea-beat keels they lay:

Then they look aloft from the foreshore, and lo, King Atli’s steeds

On the brow of the mirk-wood standing, well dight for the warriors’ needs,

The red and the roan together, and the dapple-grey and the black;

Nor bits nor silken bridles, nor golden cloths they lack,

And the horse-lads of King Atli with that horse-array are blent,

And their shout of salutation o’er the oozy sand is sent:

Then no more will the Niblungs tarry when they see that ready band

But they leap adown from the long-ships, and waist-deep they wade the strand,

And they in their armour of onset, beshielded, and sword by the side,

E’en as men returning homeward to their loves and their friends that abide.

The first of all goeth Gunnar, and Hogni the wise cometh after,

And wringeth the sea from his kirtle; and all men hearken his laughter,

As his feet on the earth stand firm, and the sun in the west goeth down,

And the Niblungs stand on the foreshore ’twixt the sea and the mirk-wood brown.

For no meat there they linger, and they tarry for no sleep,

But aloft to the golden saddles those Giuki’s children leap,

And forth from the side of the sea-flood they ride the mirk-wood’s ways,

Loud then is the voice of King Hogni and he sets forth Atli’s praise,

As they ride through the night of the tree-boughs till the earthly night prevails,

And along the desert sea-strand the wind of ocean wails.

There none hath tethered the dragons, or inboard handled the oars,

And the tide of the sea cometh creeping along the stranger-shores,

Till those golden dragons are floated, and their unmanned oars awash

In the sandy waves of the shallows, from stem to tiller clash:

Then setteth a wind from the shore, and the night is waxen a-cold,

And seaward drift the long-ships with their raiment and vessels of gold,

And their Gods with mastery carven: and who knoweth the story to tell,

If their wrack came ever to shoreward in some place where fishers dwell,

Or sank in midmost ocean, and lay on the sea-floor wan

Where the pale sea-goddess singeth o’er the bane of many a man?

Atli speaketh with the Niblungs.

Three days the Niblung warriors the ways of the mirk-wood ride

Till they come to a land of cities and the peopled country-side,

And the land’s-folk run from their labour, and the merchants throng the street

And the lords of many a city the stranger kings would meet.

But nought will the Niblungs tarry; swift through Atli’s weal they wend,

For their hearts are exceeding eager for their journey’s latter end.

Three days they ride that country, and many a city leave,

But the fourth dawn mighty mountains by the inner sea upheave.

Then they ride a little further, and Atli’s burg they see

With the feet of the mountains mingled above the flowery lea,

And yet a little further, and lo, its long white wall,

And its high-built guarded gateways, and its towers o’erhung and tall;

And ever all along them the glittering spear-heads run,

As the sparks of the white wood-ashes when the cooking-fire is done.

Then they look to the right and the left hand, and see no folk astir,

And no reek from the homestead chimneys; and no toil of men they hear:

But the hook hangs lone in the vineyard, and the scythe is lone in the hay,

The bucket thirsts by the well-side, the void cart cumbers the way.

Then doubt on the war-host falleth, and they think: Well were we then,

When once we rode in the Westland and saw the brown-faced men

Peer through the hawthorn hedges as the Niblung host went by.

Yet they laugh and make no semblance of any fear drawn nigh.

Yea, Knefrud looked upon them, and with chilly voice he spake:

“Now his guests doth Atli honour, and yet more will he do for your sake,

Who hath hidden all his people, and holdeth his vassals at home

On the day that the mighty Niblungs adown his highway come,

Lest men fear as the finders of Gods, and tremble and cumber the ways,

And the voice of the singers fail them to sing of the Niblungs’ praise.”

Men laughed as his voice they hearkened, and none bade turn again,

But the swords in the scabbards rattled as they rode with loosened rein.

Now they ride in the Burg-gate’s shadow from out the sunlit fields,

Till the spears aloft are hidden and Atli’s painted shields;

And no captain cries from the rampart, nor soundeth any horn,

And the doors of oak and iron are shut this merry morn:

Then the Niblungs leap from the saddle, and the threats of earls arise,

And the wrath of Kings’ defenders is waxing in their eyes;

But Knefrud looketh and laugheth, and he saith:

                                          “So is

Atli fain

Of the glory of the Niblungs and their honour’s utmost gain:

By no feet but yours this morning will he have his threshold trod,

Nay, not by the world’s most glorious, nay not by a wandering God.”

Then Hogni looked on Knefrud as the bodily death shall gaze

On the last of the Kings of men-folk in the last of the latter days,

And he caught a staff from his saddle, a mighty axe of war,

And stood most huge of all men in face of Atli’s door,

And upreared the axe against it with such wondrous strokes and great,

That the iron-knitted marvel hung shattered in the gate:

Through the rent poured the Niblung children, and in Atli’s burg they stood;

With none to bid them welcome, or ask them what they would.

But Hogni turned upon Knefrud, and spake: “I said, time was,

That we twain should ride out hither to bring a deed to pass:

And now one more deed abideth, and then no more for thee,

And another and another, and no more deeds for me.”

’Gainst the liar’s eyes one moment flashed out the axe-head’s sheen,

And then was the face of Knefrud as though it ne’er had been,

And his gay-clad corpse lay glittering on the causeway in the sun.

No man cried out on Hogni or asked of the deed so done,

But their shielded ranks they marshalled and through Atli’s burg they strode:

There they see the merchant’s dwelling, the rich man’s fair abode,

The halls of doom, and the market, the loom and the smithying-booth,

The stall for the wares of the outlands, the temples high and smooth:

But all is hushed and empty, and no child of man they meet

As they thread the city’s tangle, and enter street on street,

And leave the last forgotten, and of the next know nought.

So through the silent city by the Norns their feet are brought,

Till lo, on a hill’s uprising a huge house they behold,

And a hall with gates all brazen, and roof of ruddy gold:

Then they know the house of Atli, and they trow that sooth it is

That the Lord of such a dwelling may give his guest-folk bliss:

Then they loosen the swords in their scabbards, and upraise a mighty shout,

And the trumpet of the Niblungs through the lonely street rings out

And stilleth the wind in the wall-nook: but hark, as its echoes die,

How forth from that hall of the Eastlands comes the sound of minstrelsy,

And the brazen doors swing open: but the Niblungs are at the door,

And the bidden guests of Atli o’er the fateful threshold pour;

There the music faileth before them, till its sound is over and done,

And fair in the city behind them lies the flood of the morning sun:

No man of the Niblungs murmureth, none biddeth turn aback

And still their hands are empty, and sleep the edges of wrack.

Huge, dim is the hall of Atli, and faint and far aloof,

As stars in the misty even, yet hang the lamps in the roof,

And but little daylight toucheth the walls and the hangings of gold:

No King and no earl-folk’s children do the bidden guests behold,

Till they look aloft to the high-seat, and lo, a woman alone,

A white queen crowned, and silent as the ancient shapen stone

That men find in the dale deserted, as beneath the moon they wend,

When they weary even to slumber, and the journey draws to an end.

Chill then are the hearts of the warriors, for they know how they look on a queen,

That Gudrun well-belovèd of the days that once have been;

Then were men that murmured on Sigurd, and as in some dream of the night

They looked, but the left hand failed them, and there came no help from the right.

But forth stood the mighty Gunnar, and men heard his kingly voice

As he spake: “O child of my father, I see thee again and rejoice,

Though I wot not where I have wended, or where thou dwellest on earth,

Or if this be the dead men’s dwelling, or the hall of Atli’s mirth!”

She stirred not, nothing she answered: but forth stood Hogni the King,

Clear, sharp, in the house of the stranger did the voice of the fearless ring: “O sister,

O daughter of Giuki, O child of my mother’s womb,

By what death shall the Niblungs perish, what day is the day of their doom?”

Forth then from the lips of Gudrun a dreadful voice was borne:

“Ye shall die today, O brethren, at the hands of a King forsworn.”

As she spake the outer door-leaves clashed to with a mighty sound,

And the outer air was troubled with a new noise gathering around:

As of leaves in the midmost summer ere the dusk of the even warm.

When the winds in the hillsides gathered go forth before the storm;

Men abode, and a wicket opened on the feast-hall’s inner side

And the Niblungs looked for the coming of King Atli in his pride:

But one man entered only, and he thin and old and spare,

A swordless man and a little — yet was King Atli there.

He looked not once on the Niblungs, but forth to the high-seat went,

And stood aloof from Gudrun with his eyes to the hall-floor bent:

Thence came a voice from his lips, and men heard, for the hush was great.

And the hearts of the bold were astonished ’neath the overhanging fate.

“Ye are come, O Kings of the Niblungs, ye are come, O slayers of men!

But how great, and where is the ransom that shall buy your departure again?”

Then spake the wise-heart Hogni: “Do the bidden guests so long

To depart to the night and the silence from the fire and the wine and the song?

Fear not! the feast shall be merry, and here we abide in thine hall,

Till thou and the great feast-master shall bid the best befall.”

There were cries of men in the city, there was clang and clatter of steel.

And high cried the thin-voiced Atli, the lord of the Eastland weal:

“Ye are come in your pride, O Niblungs; but this day of days is mine:

Will ye die? will ye live and be little? Hear now the token and sign!”

Great then grew the voices without, with one name was the city filled,

Yea, all the world it might be, and all sounds of the earth were stilled

With that cry of the name of Atli: but Gunnar stood for a space

Till the cry was something sunken, then he put back the helm from his face

And spread out his hands before him, and his hands were empty and bare

As he stood in the front of the Niblungs like a great God smiling and fair:

“We shall live and never be little, we shall die and be masters of fame:

I know not thy will, O Atli, nor what thou wouldst with thy name.”

“Ye shall know my will,” said Atli, “ye shall do it, or do no more

The deeds of the days of the living: ye shall render the garnered store,

Ye shall give forth the Gold of Sigurd, the wealth of the uttermost strand.”

“To give a gift,” cried Hogni, “we came to King Atli’s land:

Tomorn for a little season thou shalt be the richest fool

Of all kings ever told of; and the rest let the high Gods rule.”

“O King of the East,” said Gunnar, “great gifts for thee draw nigh,

But the treasure of the Niblungs in their guarded house shall lie.”

“What then will ye do?” quoth Atli; “have ye seen the fish in the net?”

“Eve telleth of deeds,” said Gunnar, “and it is but the morning as yet.”

Said Atli: “Yea, will ye die? are there no deeds left you to do?”

“We shall smite with the sword,” said the Niblung, “and tomorn will we journey anew.”

“Craftsmaster Hogni,” said Atli, “where then are the shifts of the wise?”

Said Hogni: “To smite with the sword, and go glad from the country of lies.”

“So died the fool,” said Atli, “as Hogni dieth today.”

“Smote the blind and the aimless,” said Hogni, “and Baldur passed away.”

Said Atli: “Yet may ye live in the wholesome light of the sun,

And your latter days be as plenteous as the deeds your hands have done.”

“Dost thou hearken, O sword,” said Gunnar, “and yet thou liest in peace?

When then wilt thou look on the daylight, that the words of the mocker may cease?”

“Thou, Hogni the wise,” said Atli, “art thou weary of wisdom and lore,

Wilt thou die with these fools of the sword, and be mocked mid the blind of the war?”

“Many things have I learned,” said Hogni, “but today’s task, easy it is;

For men die every hour and they wage no master for this.

— Get hence, thou evil King, thou liar and traitor of kings,

Lest the edge of my sword be thy portion and not the ruddy rings!”

Then Atli shrank from before him, and the eyes of his intent,

And no more words he cast them, but forth from the hall he went,

And again were the Niblung children alone in the hall of their foes

With the wan and silent woman: but without great clamour arose,

And the clashing of steel against steel, and the crying of man unto man,

And the wind of that summer morning through the Eastland banners ran:

Then so loud o’er all was winded a mighty horn of fight,

That unheard were the shouts of the Niblungs as Gunnar’s sword leapt white.

But Hogni turned to the great-one who the Niblung trumpet bore,

And he took the mighty metal, and kissed the brass of war,

And its shattering blast went forward, and beat back from the gable-wall

And shook the ancient timbers, and the carven work of the hall:

Then it was to the Niblung warriors as their very hearts they heard

Cry out, not glad nor sorry, nor hoping, nor afeard,

But touched by the hand of Odin, smit with foretaste of the day,

When the fire shall burn up fooling, and the veil shall fall away;

When bare-faced, all unmingled, shall the evil stand in the light,

And men’s deeds shall be nothing doubtful, nor the foe that they shall smite.

In the hall was the voice of the trumpet, but therein might it nowise abide,

But over burg and lealand it spread full far and wide,

And strong men quaked as they heard it in the guarded chamber of stone,

And the lord of weaponed kinsfolk was as one that sitteth alone

In a land by the foeman wasted, and no man to his neighbour spoke,

But they thought on the death of Atli and the slaughter of the folk.

Of the Battle in Atli’s Hall.

Ye shall know that in Atli’s feast-hall on the side that joined the house

Were many carven doorways whose work was glorious

With marble stones and gold-work, and their doors of beaten brass:

Lo now, in the merry morning how the story cometh to pass!

— While the echoes of the trumpet yet fill the people’s ears,

And Hogni casts by the war-horn, and his Dwarf-wrought sword uprears,

All those doors aforesaid open, and in pour the streams of steel,

The best of the Eastland champions, the bold men of Atli’s weal:

They raise no cry of battle nor cast forth threat of woe,

And their helmed and hidden faces from each other none may know:

Then a light in the hall ariseth, and the fire of battle runs

All adown the front of the Niblungs in the face of the mighty-ones;

All eyes are set upon them, hard drawn is every breath,

Ere the foremost points be mingled and death be blent with death.

— All eyes save the eyes of Hogni; but e’en as the edges meet,

He turneth about for a moment to the gold of the kingly seat,

Then aback to the front of battle; there then, as the lightning-flash

Through the dark night showeth the city when the clouds of heaven clash,

And the gazer shrinketh backward, yet he seeth from end to end

The street and the merry market, and the windows of his friend,

And the pavement where his footsteps yestre’en returning trod,

Now white and changed and dreadful ’neath the threatening voice of God;

So Hogni seeth Gudrun, and the face he used to know,

Unspeakable, unchanging, with white unknitted brow,

With half-closed lips untrembling, with deedless hands and cold

Laid still on knees that stir not, and the linen’s moveless fold.

Turned Hogni unto the spear-wall, and smote from where he stood,

And hewed with his sword two-handed as the axe-man in a wood:

Before his sword was a champion and the edges clave to the chin,

And the first man fell in the feast-hall of those that should fall therein,

Then man with man was dealing, and the Niblung host of war

Was swept by the leaping iron, as the rock anigh the shore

By the ice-cold waves of winter: yet a moment Gunnar stayed,

As high in his hand unbloodied he shook his awful blade;

And he cried:

        “O Eastland champions, do ye behold it here,

The sword of the ancient Giuki? Fall on and have no fear,

But slay and be slain and be famous, if your master’s will it be!

Yet are we the blameless Niblungs, and bidden guests are we:

So forbear, if ye wander hood-winked, nor for nothing slay and be slain;

For I know not what to tell you of the dead that live again.”

So he saith in the midst of the foemen with his war-flame reared on high,

But all about and around him goes up a bitter cry

From the iron men of Atli, and the bickering of the steel

Sends a roar up to the roof-ridge, and the Niblung war-ranks reel

Behind the steadfast Gunnar: but lo, have ye seen the corn,

While yet men grind the sickle, by the wind-streak overborne

When the sudden rain sweeps downward, and summer groweth black,

And the smitten wood-side roareth ’neath the driving thunder-wrack?

So before the wise-heart Hogni shrank the champions of the East

As his great voice shook the timbers in the hall of Atli’s feast.

There he smote and beheld not the smitten, and by nought were his edges stopped;

He smote and the dead were thrust from him; a hand with its shield he lopped;

There met him Atli’s marshal, and his arm at the shoulder he shred;

Three swords were upreared against him of the best of the kin of the dead;

And he struck off a head to the rightward, and his sword through a throat he thrust,

But the third stroke fell on his helm-crest, and he stooped to the ruddy dust,

And uprose as the ancient Giant, and both his hands were wet:

Red then was the world to his eyen, as his hand to the labour he set;

Swords shook and fell in his pathway, huge bodies leapt and fell,

Harsh grided shield and war-helm like the tempest-smitten bell,

And the war-cries ran together, and no man his brother knew,

And the dead men loaded the living, as he went the war-wood through;

And man ’gainst man was huddled, till no sword rose to smite.

And clear stood the glorious Hogni in an island of the fight,

And there ran a river of death ’twixt the Niblung and his foes,

And therefrom the terror of men and the wrath of the Gods arose.

Now fell the sword of Gunnar and rose up red in the air,

And hearkened the song of the Niblung, as his voice rang glad and clear,

And rejoiced and leapt at the Eastmen, and cried as it met the rings

Of a giant of King Atli, and a murder-wolf of kings;

But it quenched its thirst in his entrails, and knew the heart in his breast,

And hearkened the praise of Gunnar, and lingered not to rest,

But fell upon Atli’s brother and stayed not in his brain;

Then he fell and the King leapt over, and clave a neck atwain,

And leapt o’er the sweep of a pole-axe and thrust a lord in the throat,

And King Atli’s banner-bearer through shield and hauberk smote;

Then he laughed on the huddled East-folk, and against their war-shields drave

While the white swords tossed about him, and that archer’s skull he clave

Whom Atli had bought in the Southlands for many a pound of gold;

And the dark-skinned fell upon Gunnar and over his war-shield rolled

And cumbered his sword for a season, and the many blades fell on,

And sheared the cloudy helm-crest and rents in his hauberk won,

And the red blood ran from Gunnar; till that Giuki’s sword outburst,

As the fire-tongue from the smoulder that the leafy heap hath nursed,

And unshielded smote King Gunnar, and sent the Niblung song

Through the quaking stems of battle in the hall of Atli’s wrong:

Then he rent the knitted war-hedge till by Hogni’s side he stood,

And kissed him amidst of the spear-hail, and their cheeks were wet with blood.

Then on came the Niblung bucklers, and they drave the East-folk home

As the bows of the oar-driven long-ship beat off the waves in foam:

They leave their dead behind them, and they come to the doors and the wall,

And a few last spears from the fleeing amidst their shield-hedge fall:

But the doors clash to in their faces, as the fleeing rout they drive,

And fain would follow after; and none is left alive

In the feast-hall of King Atli, save those fishes of the net,

And the white and silent woman above the slaughter set.

Then biddeth the heart-wise Hogni, and men to the windows climb,

And uplift the war-grey corpses, dead drift of the stormy time,

And cast them adown to their people: thence they come aback and say

That scarce shall ye see the houses, and no whit the wheel-worn way

For the spears and shields of the Eastlands that the merchant city throng:

And back to the Niblung burg-gate the way seemed weary-long.

Yet passeth hour on hour, and the doors they watch and ward,

But a long while hear no mail-clash, nor the ringing of the sword;

Then droop the Niblung children, and their wounds are waxen chill,

And they think of the Burg by the river, and the builded holy hill,

And their eyes are set on Gudrun as of men who would beseech;

But unlearned are they in craving and know not dastard’s speech.

Then doth Giuki’s first-begotten a deed most fair to be told,

For his fair harp Gunnar taketh, and the warp of silver and gold;

With the hand of a cunning harper he dealeth with the strings,

And his voice in their midst goeth upward, as of ancient days he sings,

Of the days before the Niblungs, and the days that shall be yet;

Till the hour of toil and smiting the warrior hearts forget,

Nor hear the gathering foemen, nor the sound of swords aloof:

Then clear the song of Gunnar goes up to the dusky roof;

And the coming spear-host tarries, and the bearers of the woe

Through the cloisters of King Atli with lingering footsteps go.

But Hogni looketh on Gudrun, and no change in her face he sees,

And no stir in her folded linen and the deedless hands on her knees:

Then from Gunnar’s side he hasteneth; and lo, the open door,

And a foeman treadeth the pavement, and his lips are on Atli’s floor,

For Hogni is death in the doorway: then the Niblungs turn on the foe,

And the hosts are mingled together, and blow cries out on blow.

Still the song goeth up from Gunnar, though his harp to earth be laid;

But he fighteth exceeding wisely, and is many a warrior’s aid,

And he shieldeth and delivereth, and his eyes search through the hall,

And woe is he for his fellows, as his battle-brethren fall;

For the turmoil hideth little from that glorious folk-king’s eyes,

And o’er all he beholdeth Gudrun, and his soul is waxen wise,

And he saith: We shall look on Sigurd, and Sigmund of old days,

And see the boughs of the Branstock o’er the ancient Volsung’s praise.

Woe’s me for the wrath of Hogni! From the door he giveth aback

That the Eastland slayers may enter to the murder and the wrack:

Then he rageth and driveth the battle to the golden kingly seat,

And the last of the foes he slayeth by Gudrun’s very feet,

That the red blood splasheth her raiment; and his own blood therewithal

He casteth aloft before her, and the drops on her white hands fall:

But nought she seeth or heedeth, and again he turns to the fight,

Nor heedeth stroke nor wounding so he a foe may smite:

Then the battle opens before him, and the Niblungs draw to his side;

As Death in the world first fashioned, through the feast-hall doth he stride.

And so once more do the Niblungs sweep that murder-flood of men

From the hall of toils and treason, and the doors swing to again.

Then again is there peace for a little within the fateful fold;

But the Niblungs look about them, and but few folk they behold

Upright on their feet for the battle: now they climb aloft no more.

Nor cast the dead from the windows; but they raise a rampart of war,

And its stones are the fallen East-folk, and no lowly wall is that.

Therein was Gunnar the mighty: on the shields of men he sat,

And the sons of his people hearkened, for his hand through the harp-strings ran,

And he sang in the hall of his foeman of the Gods and the making of man,

And how season was sundered from season in the days of the fashioning,

And became the Summer and Autumn, and became the Winter and Spring;

He sang of men’s hunger and labour, and their love and their breeding of broil,

And their hope that is fostered of famine, and their rest that is fashioned of toil:

Fame then and the sword he sang of, and the hour of the hardy and wise,

When the last of the living shall perish, and the first of the dead shall arise,

And the torch shall be lit in the daylight, and God unto man shall pray,

And the heart shall cry out for the hand in the fight of the uttermost day.

So he sang, and beheld not Gudrun, save as long ago he saw

His sister, the little maiden of the face without a flaw:

But wearily Hogni beheld her, and no change in her face there was,

And long thereon gazed Hogni, and set his brows as the brass,

Though the hands of the King were weary, and weak his knees were grown.

And he felt as a man unholpen in a waste land wending alone.

Now the noon was long passed over when again the rumour arose,

And through the doors cast open flowed in the river of foes:

They flooded the hall of the murder, and surged round that rampart of dead;

No war-duke ran before them, no lord to the onset led,

But the thralls shot spears at adventure, and shot out shafts from afar,

Till the misty hall was blinded with the bitter drift of war:

Few and faint were the Niblung children, and their wounds were waxen acold,

And they saw the Hell-gates open as they stood in their grimly hold:

Yet thrice stormed out King Hogni, thrice stormed out Gunnar the King,

Thrice fell they aback yet living to the heart of the fated ring;

And they looked and their band was little, and no man but was wounded sore,

And the hall seemed growing greater, such hosts of foes it bore,

So tossed the iron harvest from wall to gilded wall;

And they looked and the white-clad Gudrun sat silent over all.

Then the churls and thralls of the Eastland howled out as wolves accurst,

But oft gaped the Niblungs voiceless, for they choked with anger and thirst;

And the hall grew hot as a furnace, and men drank their flowing blood,

Men laughed and gnawed on their shield-rims, men knew not where they stood

And saw not what was before them; as in the dark men smote,

Men died heart-broken, unsmitten; men wept with the cry in the throat,

Men lived on full of war-shafts, men cast their shields aside

And caught the spears to their bosoms; men rushed with none beside,

And fell unarmed on the foemen, and tore and slew in death:

And still down rained the arrows as the rain across the heath;

Still proud o’er all the turmoil stood the Kings of Giuki born,

Nor knit were the brows of Gunnar, nor his song-speech overworn;

But Hogni’s mouth kept silence, and oft his heart went forth

To the long, long day of the darkness, and the end of worldly worth.

Loud rose the roar of the East-folk, and the end was coming at last;

Now the foremost locked their shield-rims and the hindmost over them cast,

And nigher they drew and nigher, and their fear was fading away,

For every man of the Niblungs on the shaft-strewn pavement lay,

Save Gunnar the King and Hogni: still the glorious King up-bore

The cloudy shield of the Niblungs set full of shafts of war;

But Hogni’s hands had fainted, and his shield had sunk adown,

So thick with the Eastland spearwood was that rampart of renown;

And hacked and dull were the edges that had rent the wall of foes;

Yet he stood upright by Gunnar before that shielded close,

Nor looked on the foemen’s faces as their wild eyes drew anear,

And their faltering shield-rims clattered with the remnant of their fear;

But he gazed on the Niblung woman, and the daughter of his folk,

Who sat o’er all unchanging ere the war-cloud over them broke.

Now nothing might men hearken in the house of Atli’s weal,

Save the feet slow tramping onward, and the rattling of the steel,

And the song of the glorious Gunnar, that rang as clearly now

As the speckled storm-cock singeth from the scant-leaved hawthorn-bough

When the sun is dusking over and the March snow pelts the land.

There stood the mighty Gunnar with sword and shield in hand,

There stood the shieldless Hogni with set unangry eyes,

And watched the wall of war-shields o’er the dead men’s rampart rise,

And the white blades flickering nigher, and the quavering points of war.

Then the heavy air of the feast-hall was rent with a fearful roar,

And the turmoil came and the tangle, as the wall together ran:

But aloft yet towered the Niblungs, and man toppled over man,

And leapt and struggled to tear them; as whiles amidst the sea

The doomed ship strives its utmost with mid-ocean’s mastery,

And the tall masts whip the cordage, while the welter whirls and leaps,

And they rise and reel and waver, and sink amid the deeps:

So before the little-hearted in King Atli’s murder-hall

Did the glorious sons of Giuki ’neath the shielded onrush fall:

Sore wounded, bound and helpless, but living yet, they lie

Till the afternoon and the even in the first of night shall die.

Of the Slaying of the Niblung Kings.

Lo now, ’tis an hour or twain, and a labour lightly won

By the serving-men of Atli, and the Niblung blood is gone

From the golden house of his greatness, and the Eastland dead no more

Lie in great heaps together on Atli’s mazy floor:

Then they cast fair summer blossoms o’er the footprints of the dead,

They wreathe round Atli’s high-seat and the benches fair bespread,

And they light the odorous torches, and the sun of the golden roof,

Till the candles of King Atli hold dusky night aloof.

So they toil and are heavy-hearted, nor know what next shall betide,

As they look on the stranger-woman in the heart of Atli’s pride.

Now stand they aback for the trumpet and the merry minstrelsy,

For they tremble before King Atli, and golden-clad is he,

And his golden crown is heavy and he strides exceeding slow,

With the wise and the mighty about him, through the house of the

Niblungs’ woe. There then by the Niblung woman on the throne he sat him down,

And folk heard the gold gear tinkle and the rings of the Eastland crown:

Folk looked on his rich adornment, on King Atli’s pride they gazed,

And the bright beams wearied their eyen, by the glory were they dazed;

There the councillors kept silence and the warriors clad in steel,

All men lowly, all men mighty, that had care of Atli’s weal;

Yea there in the hall were they waiting for the word to come from his lips,

As they of the merchant-city behold the shield-hung ships

Sweep slow through the windless haven with their gaping heads of gold,

And they know not their nation and names, nor hath aught of their errand been told.

But King Atli looketh before him, and is grown too great to rejoice,

And he speaks and the world is troubled, though thin and scant be his voice:

“Bring forth the fallen and conquered, bring forth the bounden thrall,

That they who were once the Niblungs did once King Hogni call.”

So they brought him fettered and bound; and scarce on his feet he stood,

But men stayed him up by the King; for the sword had drunk of his blood,

And the might of his body had failed him, and yet so great was he

That the East-folk cowered before him and the might of his majesty.

Then spake the all-great Atli: “Thou yielded thrall of war,

I would hear thee tell of the Treasure, the Hoard of the kings of yore!”

But words were grown heavy to Hogni, and scarce he spake with a smile:

“Let the living seek their desire; for indeed thou shalt live for a while.”

“Wilt thou speak and live,” said Atli, “nor pay for the blood thou hast spilt?”

Said he: “Thou art waxen so mighty, thou mayst have the Gold when thou wilt.”

Said the King: “I will give thee thy life, and forgive thee measureless woe.”

“It was gathered for thee,” said Hogni, “and fashioned long ago.”

“Speak, man o’ercome,” quoth Atli: “Is life so little a thing?”

“Art thou mighty? put forth thine hand and gather the Gold!” said the

King.

“Wilt thou tell of the Gold,” said the East–King, “the desire of many eyes?”

“Yea, once on a day,” said Hogni, “when the dead from the sea shall arise.”

Said he: “So great is my longing, that, O foe, I would have thee live,

Yea, live and be great as aforetime, if this word thou yet wouldst give.”

Said the Niblung: “Thee shall I heed, or the longing of thy pride?

I, who heeded Sigurd nothing, who thrust mine oath aside,

When the years were young and goodly and the summer bore increase!

Shall I crave my life of the greedy and pray for days of peace?

I, who whetted the sword for Sigurd, and bared the blade in the morn,

And smote ere the sun’s uprising, and left my sister forlorn:

’Yea I lied,’ quoth the God-loved Singer, ’when the will of the Gods I told!’

— Stretch forth thine hand, O Mighty, and take thy Treasure of Gold!”

Then was Atli silent a little, for anger dulled his thought,

And the heaped-up wealth of the Eastland seemed an idle thing and nought:

He turned and looked upon Gudrun as one who was fain to beseech,

But he saw her eyes that beheld not, and her lips that knew no speech,

And fear shot across his anger, and guile with his wrath was blent,

And he spake aloud to the war-lords:

                                “O ye, shall the eve be spent,

Nor behold the East rejoicing? what a mock for the Gods is this,

That men ever care for the morrow, nor nurse their toil-won bliss!

Lo now, this hour I speak in is the first of the seven-days’ feast,

And the spring of our exultation o’er the glory of the East:

Draw nigh, O wise, O mighty, and gather words to praise

The hope of the King accomplished in the harvest of his days:

Bear forth this slave of the Niblungs to the pit and the chamber of death,

That he hearken the council of night, and the rede that tomorrow saith,

And think of the might of King Atli, and his hand that taketh his own,

Though the hill-fox bark at his going, and his path with the bramble be grown.”

So they led the Niblung away from the light and the joy of the feast,

In the chamber of death they cast him, and the pit of the Lord of the

East: And thralls were the high King’s warders; yet sons of the wise withal

Came down to sit with Hogni in the doomed man’s darkling hall;

For they looked in his face and feared, lest Atli smite too nigh

The kin of the Gods of Heaven, and more than a man’s child die.

But ’neath the golden roof-sun, at beginning of the night,

Is the seven-days’ feast of triumph in the hall of Atli dight;

And his living Earls come thither in peaceful gold attire,

And the cups on the East–King’s tables shine out as a river of fire,

And sweet is the song of the harp-strings, and the singers’ honeyed words;

While wide through all the city do wives bewail their lords,

And curse the untimely hour and the day of the land forlorn,

And the year that the Earth shall rue of, and children never born.

But Atli spake to his thrall-folk, and they went, and were little afraid

To take the glorious Gunnar, and the King in shackles laid:

They deemed they should live for ever, and eat and sleep as the swine,

To them were the tales of the singers no token and no sign;

For the blossom of the Niblungs they rolled amid the dust,

That well-renownèd Gunnar ’neath Atli’s chair they thrust;

The feet of the Eastland liar on Gunnar’s neck are set,

And by Atli Gudrun sitteth, and nought she stirreth yet.

Outbrake the glee of the dastards, and they that had not dared

To meet the swords of the Niblungs, no whit the God-folk feared:

They forgat that the Norns were awake, and they praised the master of guile

The war-spent conquering Atli and the face without a smile;

And the tumult of their triumph and the wordless mingled roar

Went forth from that hall of the Eastlands and smote the heavenly floor.

At last spake Atli the mighty: “Stand up, thou war-won thrall,

Whom they that were once the Niblungs did once King Gunnar call!”

From the dust they dragged up Gunnar, and set him on his feet,

And the heart within him was living and the pride for a war-king meet;

And his glory was nothing abated, and fair he seemed and young,

As the first of the Cloudy Kings, fresh shoot from the sower sprung.

But Atli looked upon him, and a smile smoothed out his brow

As he said: “What thoughtest thou, Gunnar, when thou layst in the dust e’en now?”

He said: “Of Valhall I thought, and the host of my fathers’ land,

And of Hogni that thou hast slaughtered, and my brother Sigurd’s hand.”

Said Atli: “Think of thy life, and the days that shall be yet,

And thyself, maybe, as aforetime, in the throne of thy father set.”

“O Eastland liar,” said Gunnar, “no more will I live and rue.”

Said Atli: “The word I have spoken, thy word may yet make true.”

“I weary of speech,” said the Niblung, “with those that are lesser than

I.”

“Yet words of mine shalt thou hearken,” said Atli, “or ever thou die.”

“So crieth the fool,” said Gunnar, “on the God that his folly hath slain.”

Said Atli: “Forth shall my word, nor yet shall be gathered again.”

“Yet meeter were thy silence; for thy folk make ready to sing.”

“O Gunnar, I long for the Gold with the heart and the will of a king.”

“This were good to tell,” said Gunnar, “to the Gods that fashioned the earth!”

“Make me glad with the Gold,” said Atli, “live on in honour and worth!”

With a dreadful voice cried Gunnar: “O fool, hast thou heard it told

Who won the Treasure aforetime and the ruddy rings of the Gold?

It was Sigurd, child of the Volsungs, the best sprung forth from the best:

He rode from the North and the mountains and became my summer-guest.

My friend and my brother sworn: he rode the Wavering Fire

And won me the Queen of Glory and accomplished my desire;

The praise of the world he was, the hope of the biders in wrong,

The help of the lowly people, the hammer of the strong:

Ah, oft in the world henceforward shall the tale be told of the deed,

And I, e’en I, will tell it in the day of the Niblungs’ Need:

For I sat night-long in my armour, and when light was wide o’er the land

I slaughtered Sigurd my brother, and looked on the work of mine hand.

And now, O mighty Atli, I have seen the Niblungs’ wreck,

And the feet of the faint-heart dastard have trodden Gunnar’s neck;

And if all be little enough, and the Gods begrudge me rest,

Let me see the heart of Hogni cut quick from his living breast,

And laid, on the dish before me: and then shall I tell of the Gold,

And become thy servant, Atli, and my life at thy pleasure hold.

O goodly story of Gunnar, and the King of the broken troth

In the heavy Need of the Niblungs, and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth!”

Grim then waxed Atli bemocked, yet he pondered a little while,

For yet with his bitter anger strove the hope of his greedy guile,

And as one who falleth a-dreaming he hearkened Gunnar’s word,

While his eyes beheld that Treasure, and the rings of the Ancient

Hoard.

But he spake low-voiced to his sword-carles, and they heard and understood,

And departed swift from the feast-hall to do the work he would.

To the chamber of death they gat them, to the pit they went adown,

And saw the wise men sitting round the war-king of renown:

Then they spake: “We are Atli’s bondmen, and Atli’s doom we bring:

We shall carve the heart from thy body, and thou living yet, O King.”

Then Hogni laughed, for they feared him; and he said: “Speed ye the work!

For fain would I look on the storehouse where such marvels used to lurk,

And the forge of fond desires, and the nurse of life that fails.

Take heed now! deeds are doing for the fashioners of tales.”

But they feared as they looked on the Niblung, and the wise men hearkened and spake,

And bade them abide for a season, yea even for Atli’s sake,

For the night-slaying is as the murder; and they looked on each other and feared,

For Atli’s bitter whisper their very hearts had heard:

Then they said: “The King makes merry, as a well the white wine springs,

And the red wine runs as a river; and what are the hearts of kings,

That men may know them naked from the hearts of bond and thrall?

Nor go we empty-handed to King Atli in his hall.”

So the sword-carles spake to each other, and they looked and a man they saw,

Who should hew the wood if he lived, and for thralls the water should draw,

A thrall-born servant of servants, begetter of thralls on the earth:

And they said: “If this one were away, scarce greater were waxen the dearth

That this morning hath wrought on the Eastland; for the years shall eke out his woe,

And no day his toil shall lessen, and worse and worse shall he grow.”

They drew the steel new-whetted, on the thrall they laid the hand;

For they said: “All hearts be fashioned as the heart of the King of the land.”

But the thrall was bewildered with anguish, and wept and bewailed him sore

For the loss of his life of labour, and the grief that long he bore.

But wroth was the son of Giuki and he spake: “It is idle and vain,

And two men for one shall perish, and the knife shall be whetted again.

It is better to die than be sorry, and to hear the trembling cry,

And to see the shame of the poor: O fools, must the lowly die

Because kings strove with swords? I bid you to hasten the end,

For my soul is sick with confusion, and fain on the way would I wend.”

But the life of the thrall is over, and his fearful heart they set

On a fair wide golden platter, and bear it ruddy wet

To the throne of the triumphing East–King; he looketh, and feareth withal

Lest the house should fail about him and the golden roof should fall:

But Gunnar laughed beside him, and spake o’er the laden gold:

“O heart of a feeble trembler, no heart of Hogni the bold!

A gold dish bears thee quaking, yet indeed thou quakedst more

When the breast of the helpless dastard the burden of thee bore.”

The great hall was smitten silent and its mirth to fear was turned,

For the wrath of the King was kindled, and the eyes of Atli burned,

And he cried as they trembled before him: “Let me see the heart of my foe!

Fear ye to mock King Atli till his head in the dust be alow!”

Then the sword-carles flee before him, and are angry with their dread,

For they fear the living East–King yet more than the Niblung dead:

They come to the pit and the death-house, and the whetted steel they bear;

They are pale before King Hogni; as winter-wolves they glare

Whom the ravening hunger driveth, when the chapmen journey slow,

And their horses faint in the moon-dusk, and stumble through the snow.

But Hogni laughed before them, and he saith: “Now welcome again,

Now welcome again, war-fellows! Was Atli hood-winked then?

I looked that ye should be speedy; and, forsooth, ye needs must haste,

Lest more lives than one this even for Atli’s will ye waste.”

About him throng the sword-men, and they shout as the war-fain cry

In the heart of the bitter battle when their hour is come to die,

And they cast themselves upon him, as on some wide-shielded man

That fierce in the storm of Odin upreareth edges wan.

With the bound man swift is the steel: sore tremble the sons of the wise,

And their hearts grow faint within them; yet no man hideth his eyes

As the edges deal with the mighty: nor dreadful is he now,

For the mock from his mouth hath faded, and the threat hath failed from his brow,

And his face is as great and Godlike as his fathers of old days,

As fair as an image fashioned in remembrance of their praise:

But fled is the spirit of Hogni, and every deed he did,

The seed of the world it lieth, in the hand of Odin hid.

On the gold is the heart of Hogni, and men bear it forth to the King,

As he sits in the hall of his triumph mid the glee and the harp-playing:

Lo, the heart of a son of Giuki! and Gunnar liveth yet,

And the white unangry Gudrun by the Eastland King is set:

Upriseth the soul of Atli, and his breast is swollen with pride,

And he laughs in the face of Gunnar and the woman set by his side:

Then he looks on his living earls, and they cast their cry to the roof,

And it clangs o’er the woeful city and wails through the night aloof;

All the world of man-folk hearkeneth, and hath little joy therein,

Though the men of the East in glory high-tide with Atli win.

But fair is the face of Gunnar as the token draweth anigh;

And he saith: “O heart of Hogni, on the gold indeed dost thou lie,

And as little as there thou quakest far less wert thou wont to quake

When thou lay’st in the breast of the mighty, and wert glad for his gladness’ sake,

And wert sorry with his sorrow; O mighty heart, farewell!

Farewell for a little season, till thy latest deed I tell.”

Then was Gunnar silent a little, and the shout in the hall had died,

And he spoke as a man awakening, and turned on Atli’s pride.

“Thou all-rich King of the Eastlands, e’en such a man might I be

That I might utter a word, and the heart should be glad in thee,

And I should live and be sorry; for I, I only am left

To tell of the ransom of Odin, and the wealth from the toiler reft.

Lo, once it lay in the water, hid, deep adown it lay,

Till the Gods were grieved and lacking, and men saw it and the day:

Let it lie in the water once more, let the Gods be rich and in peace!

But I at least in the world from the words and the babble shall cease.”

So he spake and Atli beheld him, and before his eyes he shrank:

Still deep of the cup of desire the mighty Atli drank,

And to overcome seemed little if the Gold he might not have,

And his hard heart craved for a while to hold the King for a slave,

A bondman blind and guarded in his glorious house and great:

But he thought of the overbold, and of kings who have dallied with fate,

And died bemocked and smitten; and he deemed it worser than well

While the last of the sons of Giuki hangeth back from his journey to

Hell: So he turneth away from the stranger, and beholdeth Gudrun his wife,

Not glad nor sorry by seeming, no stirrer nor stayer of strife:

Then he looked at his living earl-folk, and thought of his groves of war,

And his realm and the kindred nations, and his measureless guarded store:

And he thought: Shall Atli perish, shall his name be cast to the dead,

Though the feeble folk go wailing? Then he cried aloud and said:

“Why tarry ye, Sons of the Morning? the wain for the bondman is dight;

And the folk that are waiting his body have need of no sunshine to smite.

Go forth ’neath the stars and the night-wind; go forth by the cloud and the moon,

And come back with the word in the dawning, that my house may be merry at noon!”

Then the sword-folk rise round Gunnar, round the fettered and bound they throng,

As men in the bitter battle round the God-kin over-strong;

They bore him away to the doorway, and the winds were awake in the night,

And the wood of the thorns of battle in the moon shone sharp and bright;

But Gunnar looked to the heavens, and blessed the promise of rain,

And the windy drift of the clouds, and the dew on the builded wain:

And the sword-folk tarried a little, and the sons of the wise were there,

And beheld his face o’er the war-helms, and the wavy night of his hair.

Then they feared for the weal of Atli, and the Niblung’s harp they brought,

And they dealt with the thralls of the sword, and commanded and besought,

Till men loosened the gyves of Gunnar, and laid the harp by his side,

Then the yoke-beasts lowed in the forecourt and the wheels of the waggon cried,

And the war-thorns clashed in the night, and the men went dark on their way,

And the city was silent before them, on the roofs the white moon lay.

Now they left the gate and the highway, and came to a lonely place,

Where the sun all day had been shining on the desert’s empty face;

Then the moon ran forth from a cloud, the grey light shone and showed

The pit of King Atli’s adders in the land without a road,

Digged deep adown in the desert with shining walls and smooth

For the Serpents’ habitation, and the folk that know not ruth.

Therein they thrust King Gunnar, and he bare of his kingly weed,

But they gave his harp to the Niblung, and his hands of the gyves they freed;

They stood around in their war-gear to note what next should befall

For the comfort of King Atli, and the glee of the Eastland hall.

Still hot was that close with the sun, and thronged with the coiling folk,

And about the feet of Gunnar their hissing mouths awoke:

But he heeded them not nor beheld them, and his hands in the harp-strings ran,

As he sat him down in the midmost on a sun-scorched rock and wan:

And he sighed as one who resteth on a flowery bank by the way

When the wind is in the blossoms at the even-tide of day:

But his harp was murmuring low, and he mused: Am I come to the death,

And I, who was Gunnar the Niblung? nay, nay, how I draw my breath,

And love my life as the living! and so I ever shall do,

Though wrack be loosed in the heavens and the world be fashioned anew.

But the worms were beholding their prey, and they drew around and nigher,

Smooth coil, and flickering tongue, and eyes as the gold in the fire;

And he looked and beheld them and spake, nor stilled his harp meanwhile: “What will ye?

O thralls of Atli, O images of guile?”

Then, he rose at once to his feet, and smote the harp with his hand,

And it rang as if with a cry in the dream of a lonely land;

Then he fondled its wail as it faded, and orderly over the strings

Went the marvellous sound of its sweetness, like the march of Odin’s kings

New-risen for play in the morning when o’er meadows of God-home they wend,

And hero playeth with hero, that their hands may be deft in the end.

But the crests of the worms were uplifted, though coil on coil was stayed,

And they moved but as dark-green rushes by the summer river swayed.

Then uprose the Song of Gunnar, and sang o’er his crafty hands,

And told of the World of Aforetime, unshapen, void of lands;

Yet it wrought, for its memory bideth, and it died and abode its doom;

It shaped, and the Upper–Heavens, and the hope came forth from its womb.

Great then grew the voice of Gunnar, and his speech was sweet on the wild,

And the moon on his harp was shining, and the hands of the Niblung child:

“So perished the Gap of the Gaping, and the cold sea swayed and sang,

And the wind came down on the waters, and the beaten rock-walls rang;

Then the Sun from the south came shining, and the Starry Host stood round,

And the wandering Moon of the heavens his habitation found;

And they knew not why they were gathered, nor the deeds of their shaping they knew:

But lo, Mid–Earth the Noble ’neath their might and their glory grew,

And the grass spread over its face, and the Night and the Day were born,

And it cried on the Death in the even, and it cried on the Life in the morn:

Yet it waxed and waxed, and knew not, and it lived and had not learned;

And where were the Framers that framed, and the Soul and the Might that had yearned?

“On the Thrones are the Powers that fashioned, and they name the Night and the

Day, And the tide of the Moon’s increasing, and the tide of his waning away:

And they name the years for the story; and the Lands they change and change,

The great and the mean and the little, that this unto that may be strange:

They met, and they fashioned dwellings, and the House of Glory they built;

They met, and they fashioned the Dwarf-kind, and the Gold and the

Gifts and the Guilt.

“There were twain, and they went upon earth, and were speechless unmighty and wan;

They were hopeless, deathless, lifeless, and the Mighty named them Man:

Then they gave them speech and power, and they gave them colour and breath;

And deeds and the hope they gave them, and they gave them Life and

Death; Yea, hope, as the hope of the Framers; yea, might, as the Fashioners had,

Till they wrought, and rejoiced in their bodies, and saw their sons and were glad:

And they changed their lives and departed, and came back as the leaves of the trees

Come back and increase in the summer:— and I, I, I am of these;

And I know of Them that have fashioned, and the deeds that have blossomed and grow;

But nought of the Gods’ repentance, or the Gods’ undoing I know.”

Then falleth the speech of Gunnar, and his lips the word forget,

But his crafty hands are busy, and the harp is murmuring yet.

And the crests of the worms have fallen, and their flickering tongues are still,

The Roller and the Coiler, and Greyback, lord of ill,

Grave-groper and Death-swaddler, the Slumberer of the Heath,

Gold-wallower, Venom-smiter, lie still, forgetting death,

And loose are coils of Long-back; yea, all as soft are laid

As the kine in midmost summer about the elmy glade;

— All save the Grey and Ancient, that holds his crest aloft,

Light-wavering as the flame-tongue when the evening wind is soft:

For he comes of the kin of the Serpent once wrought all wrong to nurse,

The bond of earthly evil, the Midworld’s ancient curse.

But Gunnar looked and considered, and wise and wary he grew,

And the dark of night was waning and chill in the dawning it grew;

But his hands were strong and mighty and the fainting harp he woke,

And cried in the deadly desert, and the song from his soul out-broke:

“O Hearken, Kindreds and Nations, and all Kings of the plenteous earth.

Heed, ye that shall come hereafter, and are far and far from the birth!

I have dwelt in the world aforetime, and I called it the garden of God;

I have stayed my heart with its sweetness, and fair on its freshness I trod;

I have seen its tempest and wondered, I have cowered adown from its rain,

And desired the brightening sunshine, and seen it and been fain;

I have waked, time was, in its dawning; its noon and its even I wore;

I have slept unafraid of its darkness, and the days have been many and more:

I have dwelt with the deeds of the mighty; I have woven the web of the sword;

I have borne up the guilt nor repented; I have sorrowed nor spoken the word;

And I fought and was glad in the morning, and I sing in the night and the end:

So let him stand forth, the Accuser, and do on the death-shoon to wend;

For not here on the earth shall I hearken, nor on earth for the dooming shall stay,

Nor stretch out mine hand for the pleading; for I see the spring of the day

Round the doors of the golden Valhall, and I see the mighty arise,

And I hearken the voice of Odin, and his mouth on Gunnar cries,

And he nameth the Son of Giuki, and cries on deeds long done,

And the fathers of my fathers, and the sons of yore agone.

“O Odin, I see, and I hearken; but, lo thou, the bonds on my feet,

And the walls of the wilderness round me, ere the light of thy land I meet!

I crave and I weary, Allfather, and long and dark is the road;

And the feet of the mighty are weakened, and the back is bent with the load.”

Then fainted the song of Gunnar, and the harp from his hand fell down,

And he cried: “Ah, what hath betided? for cold the world hath grown,

And cold is the heart within me, and my hand is heavy and strange;

What voice is the voice I hearken in the chill and the dusk and the change?

Where art thou, God of the war-fain? for this is the death indeed;

And I unsworded, unshielded, in the Day of the Niblungs’ Need!”

He fell to the earth as he spake, and life left Gunnar the King,

For his heart was chilled for ever by the sleepless serpent’s sting,

The grey Worm, Great and Ancient — and day in the East began,

And the moon was low in the heavens, and the light clouds over him ran.

The Ending of Gudrun.

Men sleep in the dwelling of Atli through the latter hours of night,

Though the comfortless women be wailing as they that love not light

Men sleep in the dawning-hour, and bowed down is Atli’s head

Amidst the gold and the purple, and the pillows of his bed:

But hark, ere the sun’s uprising, when folk see colours again,

Is the trample of steeds in the fore-court, and the noise of steel and of men

And Atli wakeneth and riseth, and is clad in purple and pall,

And he goeth forth from the chamber and meeteth his earls in the hall

A king full great and mighty, if a great king ever hath been;

And over his head on the high-seat still sitteth Gudrun the Queen.

Then he said: “Whence come ye, children? whence come ye, Lords of the

East? Shall today be for evil and mourning or a day of joyance and feast?”

They said: “Today shall be wailing for the foes of the Eastland kin;

But for them that love King Atli shall the day of feasts begin:

For we come from the land deserted, and the heath without a way,

And now are the earth’s folk telling of the Niblungs passed away.”

Then King Atli turned unto Gudrun, and the new sun shone through the door,

The long beams fell from the mountains and lighted Atli’s floor:

Then he cried: “Lo, the day-light, Gudrun! and the Cloudy Folk is gone;

There is glory now in the Eastland, and thy lord is king alone.”

But Gudrun rose from the high-seat, and her eyes on the King she turned;

And he stood rejoicing before her, and his crown in the sunlight burned,

With the golden gear was he swaddled, and he held the red-gold rod

That the Kings of the East had carried since first they came from God:

Down she came, and men kept silence, and the earls beheld her face,

As her raiment rustled about her in the morning-joyous place:

So she stood amidst of the sun-beams, by King Atli’s board she stood,

And men looked and wondered at her, would she speak them ill or good:

She wept not, and she sighed not, nor smiled in the stranger land,

But she stood before King Atli, and the cup was in her hand.

Then she spake: “Take, King, and drink it! for earth’s mightiest men prevail,

And to thee is the praise and the glory, and the ending of the tale:

There are men to the dead land faring, but the dark o’er their heads is deep,

They cry not, they return not, and no more renown they reap;

But we do our will without them, nor fear their speech or frown;

And glad shall be our uprising, and light our lying-down.”

She said: “A maid of maidens my mother reared me erst;

By the side of the glorious Gunnar my early days were nursed;

By the side of the heart-wise Hogni I went from field to flower,

Joy rose with the sun’s uprising, nor sank in the twilight hour;

Kings looked and laughed upon us as we played with the golden toy:

And oft our hands were meeting as we mingled joy with joy.”

More she spake: “O King command me! for women’s knees are weak,

And their feet are little steadfast, and their hands for comfort seek:

On the earth the blossom falleth when the branch is dried with day,

And the vine to the elm-bough clingeth when men smite the roots away.”

Then drank the Eastland Atli as he looked in Gudrun’s face,

And beheld no wrath against him, and no hate of the coming days;

Then he spake: “O mighty woman, this day the feast shall be

For the heritance of Atli, and the gain of mine and me:

For this day the Eastland people such great dominion win,

That a world to their will new-fashioned ’neath their glory shall begin.

Yet, since the mighty are fallen, and kings are gone from earth,

Let these at the feast be remembered, and their ancient deeds of worth.

So I bid thee, O King’s Daughter, sit by Atli at the feast,

To praise thy kin departed and Atli’s weal increased;

And the heirship-feast and the death-feast today shall be as one;

And then shalt thou wake tomorrow with all thy mourning done,

And all thy will accomplished, and thy glory great and sure.

That for ever and for ever shall the tale thereof endure.”

He spake in the sunny morning, and Gudrun answered and said:

“Thou hast bidden me feast, O Atli, and thy will shall be obeyed:

And well I thank thee, great-one, for the gifts thine hand would give;

For who shall gainsay the mighty, and the happy Kings that live?

Thou hast swallowed the might of the Niblungs, and their glory lieth in thee:

Live long, and cherish thy wealth, that the world may wonder and see!”

Therewith to the bower of queens the Niblung wendeth her way,

And in all the glory of women the folk her body array:

Forth she comes with the crown on her head and the ivory rod in her hand,

With queens for her waiting-women, and the hope of many a land:

There she goes in that wonder of houses when the high-tide of Atli is dight,

And her face is as fair as the sea, and her eyen are glittering bright.

By Atli’s side she sitteth, o’er the earls they twain are set,

And shields of the ancient wise-ones on the wall are hanging yet,

And the golden sun of the roof-sky, the sun of Atli’s pride,

Through the beams where day but glimmers casts red light far and wide:

The beakers clash thereunder, the red wine murmureth speech,

And the eager long-beard warriors cast praises each to each

Of the blossoming tree of the Eastland:— and tomorrow shall be as today,

Yea, even more abundant, and all foes have passed away.

It was then in the noon-tide moment; o’er the earth high hung the sun,

When the song o’er the mighty Niblungs in a stranger-house was begun,

And their deeds were told by the foemen, and the names of hope they had

Rang sweet in the hall of the murder to make King Atli glad:

It is little after the noon-tide when thereof they sing no more,

Nor tell of the strife that has been, and the leaping flames of war,

And the vengeance lulled for ever and the wrath that shall never awake:

For where is the kin of Hogni, and who liveth for Gunnar’s sake?

So men in the hall make merry, nor note the afternoon,

And the time when men grow weary with the task that ends not soon;

The sun falls down unnoted, and night and her daughter are nigh,

And a dull grey mist and awful hangeth over the east of the sky,

And spreadeth, though winds are sleeping, and riseth higher and higher;

But the clouds hang high in the west as a sea of rippling fire,

That the face of the gazer is lighted, if unto the west ye gaze,

And white walls in the lonely meadows grow ruddy under the blaze;

Yet brighter e’en than the cloud-sea, far-off and clear serene,

Mid purple clouds unlitten the light lift lieth between;

And who looks, save the lonely shepherd on the brow of the houseless hill,

Who hath many a day seen no man to tell him of good or of ill?

Day dies, and the storm-threats perish, and the stars to the heaven are come,

And the white moon climbeth upward and hangs o’er the Eastland home;

But no man in the hall of King Atli shall heed the heavens without,

For Atli’s roof is their heaven, and thereto they cast the shout,

And this, the glory they builded, is become their God to praise,

The hope of their generations, the giver of goodly days:

No more they hearken the harp-strings, no more they hearken the song;

All the might of the deedful Niblungs is a tale forgotten long,

And yester-morning’s murder is as though it ne’er had been;

They heed not the white-armed Gudrun, the glorious Stranger–Queen,

They heed not Atli triumphant, for they also, they are Kings,

They are brethren of the God-folk and the fashioners of things;

Nay, the Gods — and the Gods have sorrow, and these shall rue no more,

These world-kings, these prevailers, these beaters-down of war:

What golden house shall hold them, what nightless shadowless heaven?

— So they feast in the hall of Atli, and that eve is the first of the seven.

So they feast, and weary, and know not how weary they are grown,

As they stretch out hands to gather where their hands have never sown;

They are drunken with wine and with folly, and the hope they would bring to pass

Of the mirth no man may compass, and the joy that never was,

Till their heads hang heavy with slumber, and their hands from the wine-cup fail,

And blind stray their hands in the harp-strings and their mouths may tell no tale.

Now the throne of Atli is empty, low lieth the world-king’s head

Mid the woven gold and the purple, and the dreams of Atli’s bed,

And Gudrun lieth beside him as the true by the faithful and kind,

And every foe is departed, and no fear is left behind:

Lo, lo, the rest of the night-tide for which all kings would long,

And all warriors of the people that have fought with fear and wrong.

Yet a while; — it was but an hour and the moon was hung so high,

As it seemed that the silent night-tide would never change and die;

But lo, how the dawn comes stealing o’er the mountains of the east,

And dim grows Atli’s roof-sun o’er yestereven’s feast;

Dim yet in the treasure-houses lie the ancient heaps of gold,

But slowly come the colours to the Dwarf-wrought rings of old:

Yet a while; and the day-light lingers: yea, yea, is it darker than erst?

Hath the day into night-tide drifted, the day by the twilight nursed?

Are the clouds in the house of King Atli? Or what shines brighter that morn,

In helms and shields of the ancient, and swords by dead kings borne?

Have the heavens come down to Atli? Hath his house been lifted on high,

Lest the pride of the triumphing World–King should fade in the world and die?

Lo, lo, in the hall of the Murder where the white-armed Gudrun stands,

Aloft by the kingly high-seat, and nought empty are her hands;

For the litten brand she beareth, and the grinded war-sword bare:

Still she stands for a little season till day groweth white and fair

Without the garth of King Atli; but within, a wavering cloud

Rolls, hiding the roof and the roof-sun; then she stirreth and crieth aloud:

“Alone was I yestereven: and alone in the night I lay,

And I thought on the ancient fathers, and longed for the dawning of day:

Then I rose from the bed of the Eastlands; to the Holy Hearth I went;

And lo, how the brands were abiding the hand of mine intent!

Then I caught them up with wisdom, with care I bore them forth,

And I laid them amidst of the treasures and dear things of uttermost worth;

’Neath the fair-dight benches I laid them and the carven work of the hall;

I was wise, as the handmaid arising ere the sun hath litten the wall,

When the brands on the hearth she lighteth that her work betimes she may win,

That her hand may toil unchidden, and her day with praise begin.

— Begin, O day of Atli! O ancient sun, arise,

With the light that I loved aforetime, with the light that blessed mine eyes,

When I woke and looked on Sigurd, and he rose on the world and shone!

And we twain in the world together! and I dwelt with Sigurd alone.”

She spake; and the sun clomb over the Eastland mountains’ rim

And shone through the door of Atli and the smoky hall and dim,

But the fire roared up against him, and the smoke-cloud rolled aloof,

And back and down from the timbers, and the carven work of the roof;

There the ancient trees were crackling as the red flames shot aloft

From the heart of the gathering smoke-cloud; there the far-fetched hangings soft,

The gold and the sea-born purple, shrank up in a moment of space,

And the walls of Atli trembled, and the ancient golden place.

But the wine-drenched earls were awaking, and the sleep-dazed warriors stirred,

And the light of their dawning was dreadful; wild voice of the day they heard,

And they knew not where they were gotten, and their hearts were smitten with dread,

And they deemed that their house was fallen to the innermost place of the dead,

The hall for the traitors builded, the house of the changeless plain;

They cried, and their tongues were confounded, and none gave answer again:

They rushed, and came nowhither; each man beheld his foe,

And smote as the hopeless and dying, nor brother brother might know,

The sons of one mother’s sorrow in the fire-blast strove and smote,

And the sword of the first-begotten was thrust in the father’s throat,

And the father hewed at his stripling; the thrall at the war-king cried,

And mocked the face of the mighty in that house of Atli’s pride.

There Gudrun stood o’er the turmoil; there stood the Niblung child;

As the battle-horn is dreadful, as the winter wind is wild,

So dread and shrill was her crying and the cry none heeded or heard,

As she shook the sword in the Eastland, and spake the hidden word:

“The brand for the flesh of the people, and the sword for the King of the world!”

Then adown the hall and the smoke-cloud the half-slaked torch she hurled

And strode to the chamber of Atli, white-fluttering mid the smoke;

But their eyen met in the doorway and he knew the hand and the stroke,

And shrank aback before her; and no hand might he upraise,

There was nought in his heart but anguish in that end of Atli’s days.

But she towered aloft before him, and cried in Atli’s home:

“Lo, lo, the day-light, Atli, and the last foe overcome!”

And with all the might of the Niblungs she thrust him through and fled,

And the flame was fleet behind her and hung o’er the face of the dead.

There was none to hinder Gudrun, and the fire-blast scathed her nought,

For the ways of the Norns she wended, and her feet from the wrack they brought

Till free from the bane of the East-folk, the swift pursuing flame,

To the uttermost wall of Atli and the side of the sea she came:

She stood on the edge of the steep, and no child of man was there:

A light wind blew from the sea-flood and its waves were little and fair,

And gave back no sign of the burning, as in twinkling haste they ran,

White-topped in the merry morning, to the walls and the havens of man.

Then Gudrun girded her raiment, on the edge of the steep she stood,

She looked o’er the shoreless water, and cried out o’er the measureless flood:

“O Sea, I stand before thee; and I who was Sigurd’s wife!

By his brightness unforgotten I bid thee deliver my life

From the deeds and the longing of days, and the lack I have won of the earth,

And the wrong amended by wrong, and the bitter wrong of my birth!”

She hath spread out her arms as she spake it, and away from the earth she leapt,

And cut off her tide of returning; for the sea-waves over her swept,

And their will is her will henceforward; and who knoweth the deeps of the sea,

And the wealth of the bed of Gudrun, and the days that yet shall be?

Ye have heard of Sigurd aforetime, how the foes of God he slew;

How forth from the darksome desert the Gold of the Waters he drew;

How he wakened Love on the Mountain, and wakened Brynhild the Bright,

And dwelt upon Earth for a season, and shone in all men’s sight.

Ye have heard of the Cloudy People, and the dimming of the day,

And the latter world’s confusion, and Sigurd gone away;

Now ye know of the Need of the Niblungs and the end of broken troth,

All the death of kings and of kindreds and the sorrow of Odin the Goth.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/m87si/book4.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07